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Review by Fazlur Rahman vii 

Preface xiii 

1. Semantics and the Qur’an 1 

I. Semantics of the Qur’an 1 

© Keio University 1964 II- Integration of Individual Concepts 4 

ISBN 978 983 9154 38 2 in. ‘Basic’ Meaning and ‘Relational Meanings’ 11 

2. Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 32 

First published 1964 I- Synchronic and Diachronic Semantics 32 

Keio University, Minatoku, IL The Qur’an and the Post-Qur’anic Systems 42 

Tokyo, Japan 

3. The Basic Structure of Qur’anic Weltanschauung 74 

This new edition 2002 I- Preliminary Remark 74 

First reprint 2004 II- God and Man 76 

Second reprint 2008 HI- The Muslim Community 79 

IV. The Unseen and the Visible 83 

Published by V. The Present World and the Hereafter 86 

Islamic Book Trust VI. Eschatological Concepts 91 

607 Mutiara Majestic 

Jalan Othman 4. Allah 100 

46000 Petaling Jaya I. The Word Allah, Its ‘Basic’ and ‘Relational’ Meanings 100 

Malaysia II. The Concept of Allah in Arabian Paganism 106 

Website: HI- The Jews and the Christians 111 

IV. The Judeo-Christian Concept of Allah in the 

Islamic Book Trust is affiliated to The Other Press. Hands of the Pagan Arabs 115 

V. Allah of the HanTfs 117 

Cover design 5. Ontological Relation Between God and Man 127 

Habibur Rahman Jalaluddin I. The Concept of Creation 127 

II. Human Destiny 130 

6. Communicative Relation Between God and Man: 

Non-linguistic Communication 142 

Printed by I. The ‘Signs’ of God 142 

Academe Art & Printing Services II. Divine Guidance 150 

Kuala Lumpur III. The Worship as a Means of Communication 158 



7. Communicative Relation Between God and Man: 

Linguistic Communication 163 

I. God’s Speech (Kalam Allah) 163 

II. The Original Meaning of the Word Wahy 169 

III. The Semantical Structure of Revelation 178 

IV. Revelation in Arabic 199 

V. Prayer (Al-Du ‘a) 208 

8. Jahiliyyah and Islam 216 

I. Islam and the Concept of Humble Submission 216 

II. From Hilm to Islam 235 

III. The Conception of Religion (Dm) as ‘Obedience’ 239 

9. Ethical Relation Between God and Man 254 

I. God of Mercy 254 

II. God of Wrath 258 

III. Wa ‘d and Wa ‘Id 265 





Review by Fazlur Rahman* 

This book, which constitutes volume V of the series Studies in the 
Humanities and Social Relations of Keio University is written by 
Professor Toshihiko Izutsu and has emerged out of his lectures at 
McGill University, Montreal in the spring of 1962 and 1963. 
Actually, 1 participated in a seminar given by Dr. Izutsu at McGill 
during the 1960-61 session where he had tried out some of the ideas 
contained in this book. These seem to have matured over the years 
and this constitutes not only a welcome addition to the existing 
literature on Islam but introduces a new approach to the under- 
standing of Islam — particularly by non-Muslims — the linguistic 
approach. The Arabic mistakes that appear in the book (some of 
which must be sheer misprints which are also frequent in the book) 
must not lead the reader to accuse the writer of inadequacy in Arabic 
which he knows and speaks fluently. Nor is this Dr. Izutsu’s first 
work on the Qur’an, he has already given us a work on the ethical 
concepts of the Holy Book. 

At the outset, Dr. Izutsu gives us his idea of the science of 
linguistics or semantics through which he wishes to understand the 
Qur’an, “Semantics as I understand it is an analytic study of the key- 
terms of a language with a view to arriving eventually at a conceptual 

* Islamic Similes, June 1966, Vol. V No. 2, Islamic Research Institute, Rawalpindi. 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Review by Fazlur Rahman 


grasp of the Weltanschauung or world-view of the people who use 
that language ...” 

A semantical study of the Qur’an would, therefore, be an analy- 
tical study of the key-terms of the Qur’an. In the succeeding pages, 
Dr. Izutsu makes it abundantly clear that by a study of the key-terms 
is not merely meant just a mechanical analysis of these terms or 
concepts in isolation or as static units but even more importantly 
includes their living, contextual import, as they are used in the 
Qur’an. Thus, although the term Allah was used by some pre-Islamic 
Arabs not only to mean a deity among deities but even a supreme 
deity in hierarchy of deities, yet the Qur’an wrought a most funda- 
mental change in the Weltanschauung of the Arabs by precisely 
changing the contextual use of this term, by charging it with a new 
import — and that by eliminating all deities and bringing the concept 
of Allah to the centre of the circle of being. In order, therefore, to 
understand and even to find out the key-concepts themselves, one 
must know first of all the entire basic structure of the Qur’anic world 
of ideas. A portrayal of this basic structure or total Gestalt is then 
attempted in chapter 3 for, “The proper position of each individual 
conceptual field, whether large or small, will be determined in a 
definite way only in terms of the multiple relations all the major 
fields bear to each other within the total Gestalt". 

With this we also approach the basic dilemma of Dr. Izutsu’s 
semantic methodology. The key-terms, which, when grasped, were 
supposed to yield an understanding of the system as a whole (for. Dr. 
Izutsu assures us that the “key-terms determine the system”), cannot 
themselves be understood and even fixed without a prior knowledge 
of that system. This is what is called a vicious circle. There is 
nothing basically vicious with the approach (which is, indeed, a 
common-sense approach) that the best way of understanding a system 
is to study that system (in the present case the Qur’anic Weltans- 
chauung) as a whole and to pay special attention to its important 
concepts. I, therefore, must suspect that viciousness is the result of 
the desire to make semantics a science and to make grandiose claims 
on behalf of it. 

Fiom an Islamic point of view, however, this is only a formal 
difficulty; wc shall now briefly sec what constitutes for Dr. Izutsu 

the substantive structure of this Qur’anic teaching. This teaching our 
author discovers in the first place in a fourfold relationship between 
God and man. viz., (i) God is the creator of man; (ii) He comm- 
unicates His Will to man through Revelation; (iii) there subsists a 
Lord-servant relationship between God and man and (iv) the concept 
of God as the God of goodness and mercy (for those who are thank- 
ful to Him) and the God of wrath (for those who reject Him). The 
believers in this fourfold relationship between Allah and man 
constitute a Community ( Ummah Muslimah) by themselves and 
believe in the Last Day, Paradise and Hell. Dr. Izutsu’s description 
of the historical evolution of these concepts in pre-Islamic Arabia up 
to the appearance of Islam is quite rich and valuable. 

The main question is whether the basic structure of the Qur’anic 
Weltanschauung, as described by Dr. Izutsu, really does adequately 
tally with the Qur’anic teaching. One cannot help thinking that the 
author has carefully and quite subjectively tailored this “basic struc- 
ture” to fit what he himself has decided to be the “key-concepts” of 
the Qur’an. He may have thereby semi-consciously discovered in the 
Qur’an the counterparts of his personal religious Weltanschauung. 
For, how else to explain the fact that in this total picture the moral 
element is totally wanting? Dr. Izutsu approvingly quotes Prof. Sir 
Hamilton Gibb to the effect that the main difference between the 
portrayals of Heaven and Hell by Umayyah Ibn AbT al-Salt and by 
the Qur’an is that in the Qur’an they are “linked up with the essential 
moral core of the teaching”. But apparently Dr. Izutsu does not 
understand the implications of Gibb’s statement because he himself 
entirely ignores the moral field as though it forms no part of the 
“basic structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung". Indeed, while 
speaking of the “ethical relation” between God and man, Dr. Izutsu 
links up the ideas of salvation and damnation with purely personal 

One may raise the general question whether an ethical 
relationship, properly speaking, can be established at all between God 
and man. To God one can have only a worshipful attitude and not an 
ethical or moral attitude which he can have only towards other men. 
strictly speaking. One cannot be good to God but only to men. To a 
Weltanschauung like Dr, Izutsu’s, therefore, for which man-God 
relationships ore imperturbable by and indifferent to mun-mun 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

relationships, and can be established per se, the Qur’anic teaching is 
directly opposed — far from being adequately described by that 
Weltanschauung. That the Qur’an’s chief aim is to create a moral- 
social order, is actually proved if one historically studies the process 
of the revelation of the Qur’an — the actual challenges which the 
Prophet flung initially to the Makkan society. These challenges were 
not only to the pantheon of the Makkans at the Ka‘bah but also to 
their socio-economic structure. This shows the superiority of the 
historical approach to the approach of the pure semanticist. 

Only a historical approach can also do justice to the evolution 
of concepts, particularly the concept Allah. Dr. Izutsu, on the basis 
of certain verses of the Qur’an, thinks that the view of One God 
(Allah) generally prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabia on the eve of Islam, 
was “surprisingly close in nature to the Islamic one”. There is, 
however, strong evidence to believe that this “surprisingly” close 
concept of Allah was developed by the Makkans under the impact of 
the Qur’anic criticism and, on the basis of this newly evolved 
concept, they wanted to effect a compromise with the Prophet. The 
Qur’an itself bears testimony to this. 

One big trouble with Dr. Izutsu’s conception of the Qur’anic 
teaching on God-man relationship is that he does not keep the 
Makkan milieu in view and for him there is no difference between a 
Bedouin and a Makkan of the Prophet’s time. The Bedouin was 
haughty, proud, unrestrained and boastful beyond any proper sense 
of reserve; he was over-conscious of his individual self-respect — he 
possessed the quality of jahl (opposed to hilm). The function of 
Islam, therefore, consisted, above all — according to him — by humb- 
ling this haughtiness and unlimited sense of pride. This was done 
effectively by projecting an idea of God, which is, above all, 
forbidding and fear-inspiring. The truth, however, is that the 
immediate addressees of the Qur’an were the Makkans — more parti- 
cularly, their wealthy commercial classes. These people recognized 
no restraint on their amassing of wealth, did not recognize any 
obligations to their less fortunate fellow-men; regarded themselves 
“self-sufficient ( mustaghni )” i.e., law unto themselves. It is to them 
that the Qur’an first threw its challenge and required them to 
recognize limitations on their “natural rights”. It was until they had 
rejected the challenge that the Qur’an backed up its demand by a 

Review by Fazlur Rahman xi 

theology with the doctrines of Heaven and Hell. 

To make these criticisms, fundamental as they are, is not to deny 
the intrinsic value of this book which, according to this reviewer, lies 
in bringing out both the contrast and the continuity between the 
Qur’anic teaching and the post-Qur’anic developments in Islam at the 
hands of Muslims. On such vital issues as the definition of Islam and 
Iman (chapter 2, section II) and the freedom of man vis-a-vis God 
(chapter 6), how Muslim speculative theology later deviated from the 
pre-speculative mood of the Qur’an has been incisively brought out. 
One wishes the author had shown more elaborately and decisively 
that the Qur’an, far from being a work of speculative thought 
interested in system building, was as a living monument of moral and 
spiritual guidance, interested in keeping alive all the moral tensions 
which are requisite for good and fruitful life. It is because the Qur’an 
is interested in action that it is not shy of putting side by side the 
contradictory and polar terms of the moral tension. But probably the 
preoccupation of Dr. Izutsu to build out a system himself from the 
Qur’an did not allow him to do so. 

Dr. Izutsu’s treatment of the question of wahy or verbal commu- 
nication from God in chapter 7 is good and comprehensive, although 
it is somewhat uncritical in the acceptance of traditional material on 
the subject and also naive in its interpretation. We are told that the 
verbal communication can occur only between two beings of the 
same order of existenee — which is, of course correct. But then Dr. 
Izutsu tries to rationalise as to how the Prophet could have actually 
heard Words of Revelation and he tells us that the Prophet in his 
moments of Revelation, was transformed into a higher being “against 
his nature”. He does not see that this in fact explains nothing for the 
question still would remain. How is it possible for a being of one 
order to get altogether transformed — even against his own 
nature — from time to time, into a being of a different order and how, 
after the moments of Revelation have passed and the Prophet returns 
to his normal self, would he keep his identity? On the whole Dr. 
Izutsu’s use of the terms “nature” and “supernatural” in this context 
clearly smacks of the Christian doctrines about Jesus. The author’s 
differentiation of the Biblical concept of Prophecy and the Qur’anic 
concept is again very good. I would like to add that the Prophecy of 
the biblical ProphctN was not always natural but was often an art 

God and Man in the Qur’an 


cultivated in the Jewish temples. 

In the end, one would like to underline the fact that this book is 
from the pen of the first serious Asian non-Muslim scholar and a 
Japanese. As such we welcome Dr. Izutsu’s work and hope that it 
will be the harbinger of a growing tradition of Islamic scholarship in 
the Far East. 

Fazlur Rahman 


The present work is based on a course of lectures which I gave at the 
Institute of Islamic Studies in McGill University, Montreal, in the 
spring of 1962 and 1963 at the request of Dr. Wilfred Cantwell 
Smith, then Director of the Institute. I wish at the outset to express 
my cordial thanks to him for giving me the opportunity and encou- 
ragement to put into coherent form the results of many years of work 
on both the problems of semantical methodology and those of the 
Qur’anic Weltanschauung viewed from the standpoint of semantics. 

The lectures are not reproduced here as originally delivered. I 
expanded them considerably and arranged the matter in a different 
order. In so doing I was guided by a hope that, although so many 
competent scholars had already studied the Qur’an from many 
different angles, I might still be able to contribute something new 
to a better understanding of the Qur’anic message to its own age and 
to us. 

It remains to express my gratitude to all those who helped in 
various ways to make the production of this book possible: first, to 
the Rockefeller Foundation, the Humanities Division, under whose 
kind and cordial auspices I could undertake an extended two years’ 
study tour of the Muslim world (1959-1961); secondly, to all those 
who attended my seminars at the Institute in Canada and contributed 
toward making me clarify my thought by their lively questions and 
valuable comments; and last but not least, to Professor Nobuhiro 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Matsumoto, to whose guidance and unfailing sympathy this work 
owes much more than I can express. 

My colleague Mr. Takao Suzuki, read through the manuscript 
and made a number of valuable suggestions. He helped me also with 
the proof-reading. 

It is also my pleasant duty to acknowledge my great obligation 
to Dr. Shohei Takamura, President of Keio University for the subsidy 
generously granted by the University (Fukuzawa Endowment for the 
Advancement of Learning and Study) toward the publication of this 

T. Izutsu 
Tokyo, September 1963. 


Semantics and the Qur’an 

I. Semantics of the Qur’an 

This book which is actually entitled God and Man in the Qur'an 
might as well have been entitled in a more general way “Semantics 
of the Qur’an”. I would have done so readily if it were not for the 
fact that the main part of the present study is almost exclusively 
concerned with the problem of the personal relation between God and 
man in the Qur’anic world-view and is centered round this specific 
topic. The alternative title would have the advantage of showing from 
the very beginning the two particular points of emphasis which 
characterize this study as a whole: semantics on the one hand and the 
Qur’an on the other. 

In fact, both are equally important for the particular purpose of 
the present study; if we should neglect either of the two, the whole 
work would immediately lose its significance. For what is of vital 
importance here is neither the one nor the other considered 
separately, but this very combination itself. The combination suggests 
that we are going to approach a particular aspect of the Qur’an from 
a no less particular point of view. And, we must remember, the 
Qur’an is capable of being approached from a number of different 
points of view such as theological, philosophical, sociological, 
grammatical, exegetical, etc., and the Qur’an presents a number of 
divergent but equally important aspects. So it is quite essential that 
wc should try to have at the very outset the clearest possible idea as 
to the relevance of semantic methodology to Qur’anic studies, and to 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur’an 


see whether there is any real advantage in approaching the Scripture 
of Islam from this particular angle. 

The title “Semantics of the Qur’an” would suggest, to begin 
with, that the work will consist primarily in our applying the method 
of semantical or conceptual analysis to material furnished by the 
Qur’anic vocabulary. Again this would suggest that of the two points 
of emphasis to which reference has just been made, semantics 
represents the methodological aspect of our work, and the Qur’an its 
material side. Both are, as I have said, of equal importance. But 
practically, that is, for the purposes of the present study, the former 
aspect is probably more important than the latter, for this book is 
addressed first and foremost to those readers who have already a 
good general knowledge of Islam and are, therefore, ready to get 
vitally interested from the beginning in the conceptual problems 
raised by this kind of study regarding the Qur’an itself, while nothing 
has been assumed on their part in regard to specialist knowledge of 
semantics and its methodology. So I am going to put in the first part 
of this book less emphasis on the material side than on the 
methodological aspect of our problem in order to bring home to 
Islamists the interest and value of having a new outlook on old 

Unfortunately, what is called semantics today is so bewilderingly 
complicated. It is extremely difficult, if not absolutely impossible, for 
an outsider even to get a general idea of what it is like. 1 This is 
largely due to the fact that ‘semantics’, as its very etymology would 
suggest, is a science concerned with the phenomenon of meaning in 
the widest sense of the word, so wide, indeed, that almost anything 
that may be considered to have any meaning at all is fully entitled to 
constitute an object of semantics. And, in fact, ‘meaning’ in this 
sense is furnishing today with important problems thinkers and 
scholars working in most diverse fields of specialized study such as 
linguistics proper, sociology, anthropology, psychology, neurology, 
physiology, biology, analytic philosophy, symbolic logic, mathematics 
and, more recently, electronic engineering, and still others. So much 
so that ‘semantics as the study of Meaning, cannot but be a new type 
of philosophy based on an entirely new conception of being and 
existence and extending, over many different and widely divergent 
branches of traditional science, which, however, arc as yet far from 

having achieved the ideal of a perfect integration. 

Under these conditions it is but natural also that there should be 
in what is called semantics ah all too obvious lack of harmony and 
uniformity. In other words, we have as yet no neatly organized 
uniform science of semantics, all we have in our hands is a number 
of different theories of Meaning. With a measure of exaggeration we 
might describe the situation by saying that everybody who speaks of 
semantics tends — rightly, we should think — to consider himself 
entitled to define and understand the word as he likes. This being the 
case, my first task in writing this book will have to consist in making 
an attempt to clarify my own conception of semantics, and to state 
as exactly as possible what I think should be the major concern of a 
semanticist, his ultimate aim and, in particular,' his basic attitude 
along with an explanation of the methodological principles that derive 
from all this. This I will try to do in the following, not in abstracto, 
but in connection with some of the most concrete and profound 
problems raised by the language of the Qur’an. 

As will be made abundantly clear as we proceed, semantics as 
I understand it is an analytic study of the key-terms of a language 
with a view to arriving eventually at a conceptual grasp of the 
Weltanschauung or world-view of the people who use that language 
as a tool not only of speaking and thinking, but, more important still, 
of conceptualizing and interpreting the world that surrounds them. 
Semantics, thus understood, is a kind of weltanschauungslehre , a 
study of the nature and structure of the world-view of a nation at this 
or that significant period of its history, conducted by means of a 
methodological analysis of the major cultural concepts the nation has 
produced for itself and crystallized into the key-words of its 

It will be easy to see now that the word Qur’an in our phrase 
“Semantics of the Qur’an” should be understood only in the sense of 
the Qur’anic Weltanschauung, or Qur’anic world-view, i.e., the 
Qur’anic vision of the universe. The semantics of the Qur’an would 
deal mainly with the problem of how, in the view of this Scripture, 
the world of Being is structured, what are the major constituents of 
the world, and how they are related to each other. It would, in this 
sense, be a kind of ontology — a concrete, living and dynamic 
ontology, and not the kind of static systematic ontology constituted 
by n philosopher ut an abstract level of metaphysical thinking. It 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur’an 


would form an ontology at the concrete level of being and existence 
as reflected in the verses of the Qur’an. It will be our purpose to 
bring out of the Qur’an this type of living dynamic ontology by 
examining analytically and methodologically the major concepts, that 
is, those concepts that seem to have played a decisive role in the 
formation of the Qur’anic vision of the universe. 2 

II. Integration of Individual Concepts 

At first sight the task would appear to be quite a simple one. All we 
have to do, one might think, will be to pick up out of the whole 
vocabulary of the Qur’an all the important words standing for 
important concepts like Allah, Islam, nabiy (prophet), Man (belief), 
kafir (infidel) etc., et., and examine what they mean in the Qur’anic 
context. The matter, however, is not in reality so simple, for these 
words or concepts are not simply there in the Qur’an, each standing 
in isolation from others, but they are closely interdependent and 
derive their concrete meanings precisely from the entire system of 
relations. In other words, they form among themselves various 
groups, large and small, which, again, are connected with each other 
in various ways, so that they constitute ultimately an organized 
totality, an extremely complex and complicated network of 
conceptual associations. And what is really important for our 
particular purpose is this kind of conceptual system which is at work 
in the Qur’an rather than individual concepts as such taken separately 
and considered in themselves apart from the general structure, or 
Gestalt, as we might call it, into which they have been integrated. In 
analysing the individual key concepts that are found in the Qur’an we 
should never lose sight of the multiple relations which each of them 
bears to others in the whole system. 

The supreme importance of such a conceptual network or total 
Gestalt underlying the world-view of the Qur’an will be brought 
home by examining even cursorily a few examples taken almost at 
random. We may begin by observing that none of the key-terms that 
play a decisive role in the formation of the Qur’anic world-view 
including the very name of God Allah, was in any way a new 
coinage. Almost all of them had been in use in some form or other 
in pre-Islamic times. When the Islamic Revelation began to use these 

words, it was the whole system, the general context in which they 
were used that struck the Makkan polytheists as something quite 
strange, unfamiliar and, therefore, unacceptable, and not the 
individual words and concepts themselves. 

The words themselves were in current use in the 7 th century, if 
not within the narrow confines of the mercantile society of Makkah, 
at least in some religious circle or other in Arabia; only, they 
belonged in different conceptual systems. Islam brought them 
together, combined them all into an entirely new hitherto unknown 
conceptual network. And it was chiefly — I do not say exclusively, 
for, undoubtedly there were a number of other factors at work — this 
transposition of concepts, and the fundamental displacement and 
rearrangement of moral and religious values which ensued from it, 
that so radically evolutionized the Arab conception of the world and 
human existence. From the viewpoint of a semanticist who is 
interested in the history of ideas, it is this, and no other thing, that 
gave the Qur’anic vision of the universe so markedly characteristic 
a coloring. 

Speaking in more general terms, it is common knowledge that 
words, when they are taken out of their traditionally fixed combi- 
nations and put into an entirely different and new context, tend to be 
profoundly affected by that very transposition. This is known as the 
impact of context on word-meanings. Sometimes the impact results 
only in subtle shifts of emphasis and slight changes of nuance and 
emotive evocation. But more often there occur drastic changes in the 
meaning structure of the words. And this holds true even when the 
word in question in the new system still keeps hold on the same basic 
meaning which it had in the old system. 

Now to give some examples from the Qur’an. The name of 
Allah, for instance, was not at all unknown to the pre-Islamic Arabs. 
This is evidenced by the fact that the name appears not only in pre- 
Islamic poetry and compound personal names but also in old 
inscriptions. At least some people or some tribes in Arabia believed 
in a god called Allah and even seem to have gone to the extent ol 
acknowledging Him as the creator of heaven and earth, as is easy to 
sec from some of the Qur’anic verses. 3 Among people of this type 
even the highest position seems to have been assigned to Allah in the 
hierarchy of polytheism, namely in the capacity of the “Lord ol the 
House", the Ka’bah at Makkah, the other gods being regarded us 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur ’an 


so many mediators between this supreme God and human beings. 
This latter conception of the divine hierarchy most clearly reflected 
in the Qur’an. In Surah al-Zumar, we hear some polytheists saying: 

We only serve them (i.e. worship other gods) that they may 
bring us near to Allah. 

Al-Zumar, 39:4 [3] 4 

The underlying idea is that of shafa'ah (intercession) which 
plays an exceedingly important role in the history of religious thought 
among the Arabs and Muslims from the old pre-Islamic times down 
to the Middle Ages when it comes to occupy the attention of the 
Islamic theologians. 

In much the same sense, in Surah al-Ahqaf, the gods besides 
Allah are regarded as qurban, lit. means of approaching, that is, 
propitiation and intercession. There, in reference to those ancient 
cities that went to destruction as a result of their stubborn refusal to 
believe in Allah, it is asked with biting sarcasm: 

Why, then, did they not help those people, the gods that they had 
taken to themselves besides Allah as propitiators? 

Al-Ahqaf, 46:27 [28] 

These and many other verses show clearly that the existence of 
a god called Allah and even his highest position among the divinities 
was known and acknowledged in Jdhiliyyah, but He was, after all, 
but one of the gods. This age-old system of religious values was 
gravely endangered when it was proclaimed by the Prophet of Islam 
that this supreme God was not only supreme in the relative sense of 
the highest in the hierarchy but absolutely supreme, and also unique, 
i.e., the one and only God in existence, degrading thereby all other 
gods to the position of batil (false) as opposed to haqq (real), in 
other words, mere names without any reality, mere products of fancy 
and imagination. If the Arabs were to accept this new teaching, the 
general situation would have to suffer a complete^changc and reper- 
cussions would not only make themselves felt in the relatively 

confined domain of religious ideas but practically all spheres of life, 
both social and individual, would have to be thereby, affected. No 
wonder formidable opposition to this movement under Muhammad, 
began to manifest itself immediately and grew around him. 

It is to be noticed that this did not mean a mere change in the 
Arab conception of the nature of Allah alone; it meant also a drastic 
and radical change of the whole conceptual system about which we 
talked in the preceding section. The new Islamic conception of the 
supreme God affected profoundly the whole structure of the vision of 
the universe. For the first time in the history of the Arabs, a 
monotheistic and theocentric system was established, a system whose 
center was occupied by the one and only God as the sole source of 
all human actions, and, indeed, of all forms of being and existence. 
All the existent things and values were thereby subjected to a 
complete rearrangement and a new allotment. The elements of the 
universe came, without one single exception, to be uprooted from 
their old soil, and transplanted into a new field; each one of them 
was assigned a new place, and new relationships were established 
between them. Concepts that had formerly been quite foreign to each 
other were now brought into close connections; contrariwise, concepts 
that had been closely related to each other in the old system came to 
be separated in the new one. 

In the realm of the supernatural beings, the acknowledgment of 
the position of Allah as the sole Lord of the whole universe deprived, 
as noted above all the other so-called gods ( alihah ) of all reality. 
They were now “mere names”, not corresponding to any real entities 
existing outside of language. In the terminology of modem semantics, 
we should say that in this conception the term ilah (pi. alihah), when 
applied to anything other than Allah Himself is nothing but a word 
having connotation but no denotation. 

In Surah Yusuf, we read: 

U" iS jUf- 

. Nil 

That which you worship apart from Him, is nothing but names 
you have named, yourselves and your fathers. God has sent 
down no authority ? touching them. 

Yusuf 12:40 

(iOD and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur ’an 



Besides the so-called gods, there were also in Jahiliyyah a few 
other types of supernatural beings that were worshipped, feared and 
venerated in varying degrees according to places and tribes: angels, 
demons and jinn. These were all taken up and incorporated in the 
new system of Islamic world-conception, but with some fundamental 
modifications with regard to their respective position and function in 
the general scheme. 

Of the important category of jinn we shall have much to talk 
later in connection with the problem of Revelation and poetic 
inspiration. 6 Here let us consider, as a typical example, the case of 
the angel-worship in ancient Arabia. According to informations 
obtainable from the HadFth, there seems to have been widely 
practised among the Arabs in Jahiliyyah the angel-worship. The 
Qur’an itself tells us that there were many who believed and 
professed that the angels were the daughters of Allah. The word 
malak or malak meaning ‘angel’ was well-known not only among the 
town dwellers who might have been easily influenced in this respect 
by Judaism and the Persian religious conception, but also among the 
pure Bedouins. The famous pre-Islamic warrior poet ‘Antarah b. 
Shaddad, for example, has this verse: 7 

(Ask any experienced warrior in our tribe;) he will tell you that on the 
edge of my sword there lives the angel of death, always present, never 

In the Arab conception, an angel was an invisible spiritual being 
somewhat in the nature of a god or superior jinni, worthy to be 
venerated and even worshipped, but with no definite place in the 
hierarchy of the supernatural beings. Sometimes an angel was 
venerated as an intercessor or mediator between a higher god and 
men, but often he was himself an object of cult and worship. To this 
conception Islam brought a profound change of far-reaching 
consequence for the Weltanschauung of the Arabs. With the estab- 
lishment of an entirely new theocentric system, a definite place was 
assigned to the angels in the hierarchy of beings. Moreover, the 
angels themselves were classified into several categories in 
accordance with their functions and thus angelic hierarchy was 
formed within the universal hierarchy of beingfSotnc names came to 

assume a great importance being associated with some especially 
important missions to fulfil in the execution of the grand design of 
Divine Providence; such is, for example, the angel Gabriel (JibrTl or 
JabrTl in Arabic) as the heavenly messenger who is charged with the 
task of transmitting the words of Revelation to the Prophet on the 

More important still, the angels ceased to be themselves an 
object of adoration and worship; now they were but simple creatures 
of God, differing in no way from human beings in this respect, and 
they were naturally so made exactly as men were, to worship God, 
to be humble and obedient servants of God. In Surah 4, we are told: 

The Messiah will never disdain to be a servant of God, nor will 
those angels who are allowed to enjoy Divine favor. Whoever 
disdains to serve Him as a slave, being too proud (to do so), He 
will assemble them to Him, all together. 

An-Nisa ’, 4:170-171 [172] 

Thus we see the angels, without ceasing to be celestial beings 
belonging to higher ontological order than mankind, degraded to the 
position of mere servants or slaves of Allah in much the same way 
as ordinary human beings. And if this is the case with the angels how 
much more should this be the case with jinn. These have also been 
originally and essentially created to serve and worship Allah; there 
can be no difference at all in this important respect between jinn and 
human beings. In Surah 51, Allah Himself declares: 

I created jinn and mankind only that they might serve Me. 

Al-Dhariyat, 51:56 

And the verse is well-known 8 in which it is solemnly declared 
that those the jinn who disobey Allah and refuse to serve Him will 
be thrown into hell on the Day of Judgment together with humar 
kuffdr (infidels) without any discrimination. 

It is to be noticed that all these arc but a small part of the 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur ’an 


universal rearrangement of concepts and redistribution of values 
brought about by the teaching of Islam, which radically altered the 
nature of the Arab conception of the world. We must observe that the 
words have not changed in their original basic meanings; what has 
actually changed is the general plan, the general system, and in this 
new system each one of them has found a new position. The word 
malak , for example, still retains the old meaning of ‘angel’, and yet 
in this new system, it is no longer what it has been; it has undergone 
a subtle but very profound inner semantic transformation as a result 
of its having been put in a new place in a new system. 

The impact of a new conceptual framework on the meaning 
structure of individual concepts will come out much more clearly if 
we turn to words that stand for moral, ethical or religious values. In 
the nature of the case, the Qur’an abounds in excellent examples in 
this field. We may mention as the most typical one the word taqwa . 
As we shall see later , 9 the basic semantic core of a living being of the 
word taqwa was in Jdhiliyyah “self-defensive attitude of a living 
being, animal or man, against some destructive force coming from 
outside”. This word comes into the Islamic system of concepts 
carrying with it this very basic meaning. But there, under the 
overwhelming influence of the whole system, and particularly by the 
fact of its having been now put into a specific semantic field 
composed of a group of concepts having to do with ‘belief which is 
peculiar to the Islamic monotheism, it comes to acquire an extremely 
important religious meaning: taqwa , passing through the intermediate 
stage of “the pious fear of Divine chastisement on the Day of 
Judgment”, ends by meaning personal ‘piety’ pure and simple. 

A great many examples may be easily adduced to illustrate the 
same process of semantic transformation from different angles. But 
it is not necessary to do so at this stage, for, after all, that precisely 
will be the most important subject, of this whole study, and will, 
therefore, continue to occupy us all through the book. So instead of 
going any further in this direction, I should like to stop here for a 
while and add some general observations on what I have called the 
whole conceptual system or network from a somewhat more technical 
point of view. 

III. ‘Basic’ Meaning and ‘Relational’ Meaning 

By the brief and summary explanation I have just given, the 
significance of a whole conceptual framework, or total Gestalt , has 
been, I hope, made apparent in affecting the meaning values of 
individual words that exist in totality. Concepts, we have seen, do not 
stand alone and in isolation but are always highly organized into a 
system or systems. 

At this stage I should like to introduce a technical distinction 
between what I would call ‘basic’ meaning and ‘relational’ meaning 
as one of the major methodological concepts of semantics in order to 
facilitate our subsequent analytic work. 

Now if we take up the Qur’an and examine from our standpoint 
the key-terms that we meet with therein, we notice immediately two 
things, one quite obvious and, apparently, even too banal and 
commonplace to be pointed out, and another which may not be so 
obvious at the first glance. The obvious side of the matter is that each 
individual word, taken separately, has its own basic meaning or 
conceptual content on which it will keep its hold even if we take the 
word out of its Qur’anic context. The word kitdb (book), for 
example, means basically the same thing whether it is found in the 
Qur’an or outside of the Qur’an. This word, as long as it is actually 
felt by the speech community to be one word, keeps its fundamental 
meaning — in this case, a very general and non-specified meaning of 
‘book’ — wherever it is found, whether it happens to be used as a key- 
term in a given system of concepts or more generally outside of that 
particular system. This constant semantic element which remains 
attached to the word wherever it goes and however it is used, we 
may call the ‘basic’ meaning of the word. 

This, however, does not exhaust the meaning of the word. And 
here begins the second aspect of word-meaning to which reference 
has just been made. In the Qur’anic context, the word kitdb assumes 
an unusual importance as the sign of a very particular religious 
concept surrounded by a halo of sanctity. This comes from the fact 
that in this context the word stands in a very close relation to the 
concept of Divine Revelation, or rather various concepts having direct 
reference to Revelation. This means that the simple word kitdb, with 
its simple basic meaning ‘book’, once introduced into a particular 
system and given a certain definite position in it, acquires a lot of 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

semantics ana ine y/ur un 

i J 

new semantic elements arising out of this particular situation, and 
also out of the various relations it is made to bear to other major 
concepts of that system. And, as happens very often, the new 
elements tend gravely to affect and even modify essentially the 
original meaning structure of the word. Thus in this case, the word 
kitab , as soon as it is introduced into the Islamic conceptual system, 
is put into a close connection with such important Qur’anic words as 
Allah , wahy (revelation), tanzll (sending down, of Divine words), 
nabiy (Prophet), ahl (people; in the particular combination of ahl al- 
kitdb — the people of the Scripture — meaning peoples who possess a 
Book of Revelation like the Christians and the Jews, etc.). 

A^the word kitab in an ordinary context showing the basic meaning of ‘book’ pure 
and simple. 

B — the same word kitab in the semantic field of Revelation peculiar to the Qur 'an. 

Henceforward, the word in the characteristically Qur’anic context will 
have to be understood in terms of all these related terms and this 
association alone gives the word kitab very special semantic coloring, 
that is, very complex and particular meaning structure which it would 
never have acquired if it remained outside of this system. It is to be 
noticed that this is also part of the meaning of the word kitab as long 
as it is used in the Qur’anic context — an exceedingly important and 
essential part of its meaning, indeed, far more important than the 
‘basic’ meaning itself. This I would call in this book, the ‘relational’ 
meaning of the word to distinguish it from the latter. 

Thus, while the ’basic’ meaning of a word is something inherent 
in the word itself, which it carries with it Avhcrcver it goes, the 
‘relational’ meaning is something connotativc that comes to be 

attached and added to the former by the word’s having taken a 
particular position in a particular field, standing in diverse relations 
to all other important words in that system. 

In view of the great methodological importance of this concept, 
I should like to give here another simple example showing how a 
‘relational’ meaning comes into being. The word I have in mind is 
yawm whose ‘basic’ meaning is ‘day’. 

Let us suppose that the big circle (Q) in the diagram represents the 
whole Qur’anic vocabulary. This Q is, as we shall see in detail 
presently, a large conceptual system consisting of a number of 
smaller overlapping conceptual systems which we call in semantics 
‘semantic fields’. Among them there is a ‘field’ which is of especial 
importance in determining the nature of the Qur’anic world-view, a 
field, that is, composed of words having direct reference to the 
Resurrection and the Last Judgment, like qiyamah (resurrection), 
ba ‘th (raising, the dead), din (Last Judgment), hisab (reckoning), etc. 
This field or conceptual network constituted by these words we may 
call the Eschatological field (E), 

As is natural, an intense atmosphere of a very unusual nature 
pervades the whole field and reigns over it. Right into this 
atmosphere you pul the word yawm with its proper-neutral, wc might 
say meaning of a ‘day’, which it has in normal situations; at once 
you see a variety of conceptual associations formed around it, and the 
concept of ‘day’ tinged with a marked eschatological coloring. In 
short, ai yawm (the day) means in this particular field not an ordinary 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur’an 


day, but the Last Day, i.e., the Day of Judgment. Exactly the same 
explanation applies to the Qur’anic use of the word sa'ah 10 whose 
basic meaning is ‘hour’. In order to be understood in the sense of the 
‘Hour of Resurrection’, the word need not actually occur in special 
combinations with other words that have more explicitly eschato- 
logical associations; the word sa’ah by itself is quite sufficient to 
convey all the necessary eschatological implications if only we know 
that it is being used not in its basic meaning, but in a sense which is 
peculiar to this semantic field. 

It often happens that the modifying power of the whole system 
works upon the word so strongly that the latter ends by almost losing 
its original conceptual meaning. When this happens, then we have a 
different word; in other words, we are witnessing the birth of a new 
word. The outstanding example is the semantic transformation which 
the verb kafara underwent in the Qur’an. 

Kafara properly and basically means “to be ungrateful”, “to 
show ingratitude” towards some good done or some favor shown by 
some other person; it is just the opposite of shakara meaning “to be 
thankful”. And this is the usual meaning of the verb kafara within the 
larger context of the vocabulary of the Arabic language. This 
meaning itself does not change in any way whether the verb be used 
by the Muslims or by the non-Muslim Arabs; it is common to all the 
Arabic speaking people. Moreover, this has been so all through the 
ages from pre-Islamic times down even to our own days. 

However, the word took quite a special course within the 
narrower context of Islamic theology. At the Qur’anic stage of the 
development of the Arabic language, the word was taken over from 
the pre-Islamic vocabulary by Divine Revelation and put into an 
extremely important semantic field composed of words having 
reference to the central concept of ‘belief, namely, belief in God. A 
direct and most intimate conceptual connection was thereby estab- 
lished between this verb and the word Allah. That is to say, within 
this narrowly confined semantic field — which we might call the 
man- field, Tman being roughly equivalent in meaning to ‘belief, as 
we shall see more full later — kafara was no longer the simple attitude 
of ingratitude, but was ingratitude towards God, or more exactly, 
towards God’s goodness and the favour shown by Him. And this is 
the first stage in the very interesting semantic development of this 
word in the Qur’anic context. 

In order to understand the next stage we must remember the 
very basic fact about Islam that, according to the religious teaching 
of the Qur’an itself, one of the essential conditions, or rather, the 
very first step in attaining to the true ‘belief or ‘faith’ ( iman ) is that 
man should learn to understand the seemingly quite ordinary and 
common natural phenomena which he observes around him not as 
simple natural phenomena but as so many manifestations of Divine 
goodness towards him — that is, in Qur’anic terminology, as so many 
‘signs’ ( ayat ) of God — and be truly thankful to Him for them. The 
Qur’an, never tires of insisting most emphatically and trying to bring 
home to man how all the good things which he is enjoying in this 
earthly life are in reality nothing but God’s gifts. Islam as a religion 
is, in this respect, an exhortation to gratitude towards God. At the 
same time it is an exhortation addressed to man to become deeply 
conscious of his ultimate and essential dependence on God. In the 
religious view of the Qur’an this consciousness on the part of man of 
his absolute dependence on God is the very beginning of the true 
faith and belief in God. This explains how the verb kafara — or its 
nominal form kufr deviates little by little from the original meaning 
of ‘ingratitude’ and comes nearer and nearer to the meaning of 
‘disbelief or ‘unbelief as the flat negation of the concept of Tman. 
In the Qur’anic verses that were revealed to Muhammad towards the 
end of his lifetime, kafara was no longer the antonym of shakara (be 
thankful) but rather the opposite of amana (to believe), and its 
participal form kafir — this form, incidentally was destined to play a 
part of paramount importance in the subsequent history of Islamic 
thought, whether theological or political — came to mean simply an 
‘infidel ’. 11 Correspondingly, the word shakara, on its part, comes 
very near to the concept of Tman itself. In not a few places in the 
Qur’an, shakara (to be thankful) to God is almost synonymous with 
amana (to believe) in God, although, to be sure, the semantic 
transformation in this case has not been as complete as in the case of 

In any case, here we see how word-meanings get affected by 
their neighbors, by the impact, that is, of the whole system to which 
they arc made to belong. A word signifying ‘thankfulness’ could 
never have conceivably acquired a meaning coming near to ‘belief 
and ‘faith’ except by having been put into a particular semantic field, 
where all elements contributed towards letting it develop in that dire- 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

semantics ana me yur an 

ction. And in terms of our distinction between ‘basic’ meaning and 
‘relational’ meaning, we might describe fairly adequately the situation 
by saying that in the case of shakara a markedly characteristic 
relational meaning developed around the basic semantic core of the 
word in the Qur’an, which enabled the word to be used sometimes 
almost synonymously with amana , while in the case of kafara “to be 
ungrateful” the relational meaning became powerful and got the 
upper hand of the basic meaning so much so that it eventually 
produced a new word with the basic meaning of ‘disbelief. 

It remains now to say a word about the real nature of what I 
have called ‘basic’ meaning in distinction from the ‘relational’. It 
must be kept in mind that the ‘basic’ meaning which, as I said, a 
word carries with it everywhere and always as its conceptual core or 
kernel, and which, therefore, does not change in whatever system the 
word may be put, as long as it is felt by the community to be one 
word — this ‘basic’ meaning is in reality but a methodological 
concept, that is to say, a theoretic postulate which proves useful 
whenever we want to analyze the meaning of a word scientifically, 
which, however, we never find in this abstract form in the world of 
reality. We only assume as a working hypothesis the existence of 
some such thing in our semantical analysis of words because in most 
cases the assumption facilitates our analytic procedure and makes our 
understanding of word-meanings more systematic and scientifically 
exact. To say the truth, words are all complex social and cultural 
phenomena, and in the world of reality even a single word cannot be 
found, whose concrete meaning is covered completely by what I call 
‘basic’ meaning. All words without exception are more or less 
markedly tinged with some special coloring coming from the peculiar 
structure of the cultural milieu in which they actually exist. 

IV. Vocabulary and Weltanschauung 

The previous section was devoted to a consideration of a 
methodological distinction between two different, although closely 
related, sorts of word-meaning which we named provisionally ‘basic’ 
meaning and ‘relational’ meaning respectively. And we examined a 
Pew examples from the Qur’an. Our real aim was not so much to 
explain the distinction itself by concrete examples to show how 

i / 

semantical analysis of the ‘relational’ side of a word-meaning 
requires a minute and careful investigation into the general cultural 
situation of the age and the people in addition to a more specialist 
linguistic knowledge of the word. For, after all, what we call the 
‘relational’ meaning of a word is nothing other than a concrete 
manifestation, or crystallization, of the spirit the culture, and a most 
faithful reflection of the general tendency, psychology and otherwise, 
of the people who use the word as part of their vocabulary. 

This, I think, has also shown that semantical analysis is neither 
a simple analysis of the formal structure of a word nor a study of the 
original meaning attached to the word- form, /.e., etymology. 
Etymology, even when we are fortunate enough to know it, can only 
furnish us with a clue as to the ‘basic’ meaning of a word. And, we 
must remember, etymology in many cases remains a simple guess- 
work, and very often an insoluble mystery. Semantical analysis, in 
our conception, is something that intends to go far beyond that. It 
purports to be a cultural science, if we are to classify it. The analysis 
of the basic relational elements of a key-term should be conducted in 
such a way that, when we really succeed in doing it, the combination 
of the two aspects of the meaning would bring to light one particular 
aspect, one significant facet of culture as it was, or is, being 
experienced consciously by those belonging to that culture. And at 
the end, if we ever reach that final stage, all the analysis done must 
help us reconstruct on an analytic level the whole structure of the 
culture as it really lived — or lives, as the case may be — in the 
conception of the people. This is what I would call the ‘semantic 
Weltanschauung ’ of a culture. 

It remains now to elucidate more in detail what kind of a thing 
this ‘semantic Weltanschauung ’ is, how it is basically constituted, and 
what grounds we can offer for maintaining that it forms philoso- 
phically a dynamic ontology to which a passing reference has earlier 
been made. 

With this in view let us begin by repeating what we have already 
remarked, namely, that the words in a language form a closely-knit 
system. The main pattern of that system is determined by a certain 
number of particularly important words. It is necessary to note here 
that not all words in a vocabulary are of equal value in forming the 
basic structure of the ontological conception underlying the voca- 
bulary, however important they may appear from other points of 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur'an 


view. The word 6 stone’ , for example, may be fairly important in the 
daily life of the English-speaking people. But the word, it would 
seem, does not play any decisive part in characterizing the world- 
view of the present day English language. In the same way, the word 
qirtds meaning ‘parchment’ which occurs in the Surah al-An‘am 12 is 
indeed, a very interesting and remarkable word not only linguistically 
but also from the standpoint of the cultural history of the Arabs, but 
it does not contribute in any essential way towards characterizing the 
nature of the fundamental Qur’anic vision of the universe. The word 
sha ( ir (poet) is several degrees more important than this, particularly 
in a negative sense, because the Qur’an is emphatic in pointing out 
to the opponents that the Prophet Muhammad is “not a poet”. 13 And 
yet, its importance, when compared with the word nabiy (prophet) 
itself, is very small. Those words that play a really decisive role in 
making up the basic conceptual structure of the Qur’anic world-view, 
I would call the ‘key-terms’ of the Qur’an. Allah , Islam, Man 
(faith), kafir (infidel), nabiy (prophet), rasul (apostle, of God) are 
some of the outstanding examples. It will be the most important, but 
also the most difficult part of a semanticist’s job, who would study 
the Qur’an from this point of view, to isolate, before everything else, 
the key-terms out of the bulk of Qur’anic vocabulary. For it will 
determine all the subsequent analytic work he will be doing; this will 
doubtless form the very basis of the whole edifice. 

Almost unavoidably a certain amount of arbitrariness comes into 
this choice of the key-terms, and this may gravely affect at least 
some aspect of the whole picture. Just to give one example: the 
Qur’an mentions more than ten times the Heavenly ‘Throne’, ' arsh 
of Allah, 14 and we know that this concept occupies a very prominent 
place in the discussions of later theologians of Islam and that it plays 
also an exceedingly important role in Islamic mysticism as a symbol. 
But whether the concept is so fundamentally important already at the 
Qur’anic stage as to be fully entitled to be regarded as one of the 
key-terms will certainly be a question open to discussion. And the 
semanticist will have to be confronted with many similar cases in the 
course of his analysis. This, however, does not offer a real problem, 
for as regards, at least, the main body of key-terms there can possibly 
be no essential disagreement. Nobody will question the choice of 
words like Islam Man, kufr, nabiy , etc., not to speak of the word 
Allah itself. 

Now the key-terms constitute among themselves the general 
pattern the vocabulary of which they are representative members. 
And this they do by standing in diverse and multiple relations with 
each other. As I said earlier they do not exist quite independently of 
each other; they are connected with one another in a most intricate 
way and in diverse directions. Let A, B, C, D, E, F and G be the 
key-terms of a vocabulary. The word A with its own ‘basic’ meaning 
is closely related with B, D and E , for example. The word 5, in its 
turn, itself having its proper ‘basic’ meaning has an intimate 
relationship with E, F, G besides A , and the word G with C and B , 
etc., etc. So that all, taken as a whole, represent themselves to our 
eyes as a highly organized system of interdependent elements, a 
network of semantic associations. And finally, all the words of the 
vocabulary are distributed along these main lines. 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur ' an 


Thus we see that ‘vocabulary’ in this sense is not a mere sum 
total of words; 15 that is, it is not a mere haphazard collection of a 
great number of words lumped together without order and principle, 
each one of them standing by itself without any essential connection 
with others (Picture A), On the contrary, the words exist connected 
with each other in multiple relationships and thus form a number of 
largely overlapping areas or sectors (Picture B ). These areas consti- 
tuted by the various relations of words among themselves we may 
call ‘semantic fields’. 

Each semantic field represents a relatively independent 
conceptual sphere which is quite similar in nature to vocabulary. The 
difference between ‘vocabulary’ and ‘semantic field’ is obviously a 
relative one; essentially there can be no difference at all between 
them. For, after all, a ‘semantic field’ is no less an organized whole 
than ‘vocabulary’, because it is a whole body of words arranged in 
a meaningful pattern representing a system of concepts ordered and 
structured in accordance with a principle of conceptual organization. 
Vocabulary usually comprises a number of spheres, that is to say, 
vocabulary as a larger conceptual field is divided up into several 
particular fields. But each of the particular fields, as an organized 
sector of the vocabulary, is itself fully entitled to be called a 
‘vocabulary’ if it is large enough to be treated as an independent unit. 
Only when we consider it as a particular part of a larger whole, do 
we distinguish it from the latter it a ‘semantic field’. The latter, in 
this sense, is a system within a system, a sub-system. 

Theoretically it would, then, be possible to consider even the 
Qur’anic vocabulary itself a particular ‘field’ within a still larger 
whole, the vocabulary of the Arabic language of that age. If we leave 
out of consideration — which, however, we should not do, 
practically — the tremendous cultural importance the vocabulary of the 
Qur’an in the history of Arabic, and adopt a strictly formal point of 
view, then the Qur’anic vocabulary is but a sub-system within a 
system. In any case, this seems to give us warning against ignoring 
the basic relationship it bears to other significant sections within the 
whole vocabulary of the Arabic language. Fortunately for us, some- 
thing at least of these other sectors is known to us, chiefly through 
the language of pre-Islamic and mukhadram poetry, 16 which has come 
down to us thanks to the painstaking efforts of the great philologists 
of the Abbasid period. The pre-Islamic po6ts— and partly also the 

mukhadram poets — share with the Qur’an a considerable amount of 
key-words, but their vocabulary and the underlying world-view are 
structured along essentially different lines from those of the Qur’an. 

In these two major conceptual systems of old Arabia — the pre- 
Islamic and the Qur’anic — even the common elements belong as a 
rule in entirely different spheres of thought. And this simply means 
that one and the same word usually assumes a completely different 
semantic value according as it belongs in this system or that. And 
since, chronologically, the vocabulary of pre-Islam is antecedent to 
that of the Qur’an, a comparison between them will certainly be quite 
fruitful. It will, we might expect, cast an illuminating light on the 
original ‘basic’ meaning of some of the key-terms that are found in 
the Qur’an. It will further allow us to see exactly how new ideas 
arose and how old ideas were modified in Arabia in the critical 
period extending from the late Jahiliyyah age to the first Islamic age, 
and observe how history acted upon and moulded the thought and life 
of the people. This is the main reason why in the following I shall 
constantly be referring to pre-Islamic poetry in explaining the 
semantic structure of the Qur’anic vocabulary. 17 

The above considerations have, I hope, made it sufficiently clear 
that vocabulary, far from being a single homogeneous plain, consists 
of a great number — or rather we should say, an indefinite 
number — of strata of associative connections or spheres of conceptual 
association, each one of which corresponds to a predominant interest 
of a community in a given period of history and thus epitomizes 
some aspect of its ideals, aspirations and preoccupations. Vocabulary, 
in short, is a multi-strata structure. And these strata are formed, 
linguistically, by groups of key- words, which we have named 
‘semantic fields’. 

Our next task will be to investigate how individual ‘semantic 
fields’ are themselves structured in detail, and how it will be possible 
for us to detect one in midst of an extremely complicated whole of 
interlocking elements. Thus, to come back to our main topic in this 
chapter, which is nothing other than the semantics of the Qur’an, we 
shall have to begin by trying to isolate major conceptual spheres of 
the Qur’an, then we shall be engaged in discovering how these 
various spheres or semantic fields, large and small, area delimited by 
their neighbors, how they arc related with one another, how they arc 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur 'an 


internally structured, and how they are organized and integrated into 
the largest multi-strata system, /.e, that of the whole Qur’an, besides 
paying due attention to the particular structure of the meaning of each 
individual key-word. 

At this point I must introduce another technical term — ‘focus- 
word’ — corresponding to a new methodological concept which will 
prove very useful when we are engaged in isolating and analysing 
semantic fields. By ‘focus-word’ I would mean a particularly 
important key-word which indicates and delimits a relatively inde- 
pendent and distinctive conceptual sphere, i.e. ‘semantic field’ in our 
terminology, within the larger whole of vocabulary. A focus-word is, 
thus, an arche in the Aristotelian sense; it is that in terms of which 
a particular sub-system of key- words is set off and distinguished from 
the rest. It is the conceptual center of an important semantic sector of 
vocabulary, comprising a certain number of key-words. 

Since all key-words are, by definition, important terms, it will 
be difficult for us to decide definitely as to which, of all the possible 
candidates for it, should be taken as the real ‘focus’ of the system. 
And here again we must admit the possibility of an element of 
arbitrariness coming into our choice. But this must not be allowed to 
make us blind to the methodological utility of such a concept. 
Besides, the situation is made less embarassing by the fact that the 
concept of ‘focus-word’ is, and must necessarily be, a fairly flexible 
one. If a certain word is made to act as a focus-word in a certain 
semantic field, that does not prevent the same word from behaving 
as an ordinary key-word in some other field or fields. And this 
reflects faithfully the real nature vocabulary, which, as I said above, 
is always and everywhere a multi-strata structure. This I will show 
now, in a preliminary way, by one or two simple examples. 

The word Tman (belief) — with all the other words derived 
directly from the same root, like dmana (to believe), mu ’min 
(believer) — for instance, plays in the Qur’an an exceedingly 
important part. Nobody will disagree to our regarding it as a focus- 
word governing a special field of its own. And as soon as we take it 
as a focus-word, we begin to see a certain number of other important 
words, that is, key-words, clustering about it as the conceptual article 
or focal point, thus forming together a significant conceptual sphere 
the whole vocabulary of the Qur’an (Pictupe^i.). These key-words 
clustering about Tmdn are of either a positive ( P ) or a negative (N) 


nature. On the positive side, we have among others, words like shukr 
(thankfulness; the verb shakara l *\ Islam , lit. “the giving over of 
one’s self (to God)” (the verb aslama ), tasdlq , “considering (the 
revealed words) truthful” (the verb saddaqa ), Allah (as the object 
‘belief), etc. While the negative side of this conceptual network 
consists of words like kufr (disbelief), takdhib , “giving the lie to (the 
revealed words)” (the verb kadhdhaba ; kadhib: ‘a lie’), Hsydn 
(disobedience), and nifdq (“making a false show of belief’), etc. 

Thus a group of important words, i.e., key- words, center around 
a word which represents and unifies the whole group, and constitute 
in this way a relatively independent field of concepts. If the word 
standing at the centre delimits the field in the gross and gives the 
main concept without any differentiation, the words centering around 
it point each in its own way, to this or that particular aspect of the 
main concept; they behave as the principle of differentiation while 
the focus-word works as the principle of unification. And the whole 
field constitutes by itself a small vocabulary within the larger 
vocabulary of the Qur’an, that is, a sub-system of concepts falling 
within a larger conceptual system. And this latter consists of a 
number of similarly structured sub-systems coexisting with each 

This, however, does not yet give a true picture of the complex 
nature of system. The complexity of the matter arises from the fact 
that each of the words appearing in a sub-system, whether focus-word 
or key-word, does not remain confined within the limits of the 
particular field, but normally has a multiple relationship to many 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur ’an 


other words that properly belong to other fields. The focus-word of 
a certain field may appear as one of the ordinary key-terms in 
another field; contrariwise, a word that belongs in a certain sphere in 
the capacity of a key-term may appear in another as its focus-word. 
Again, some words may be there that arc common to two or more 
fields all in the capacity of simple key-words. 

Thus, to give the most remarkable example, the word Allah 
appears in semantic field of ‘belief which I have just mentioned, as 
a key-word along, with others centering around the focus-word Fmdn , 
because it is, in this particular connection, the grammatical object of 
Imdn-dmana bi-Allah (“to believe in God”) being one of the standing 
expressions in the Qur’an. The reverse side, I mean, conceptual side 
of this is that God is here being taken account of in so far as is the 
object of faith. There are, however, several other points of view, 
which the word Allah must admittedly be looked upon as an 
important focus-word that gathers around itself quite a number of 
key-words including Tman itself. To say the truth, the word Allah is 
the highest focus-word in Qur’anic vocabulary, reigning over the 
entire domain. And this is nothing but the semantic aspect of what 
we generally mean by saying that the world of the Qur’an is 
essentially theocentric. We shall have occasion to come back to the 
point later. 

Of the remaining key-words that appear in the same field, Islam 
undoubtedly is fully entitled to be considered a focus-word with its 
own semantic field. Likewise, the word kufr on the negative side. The 
rest, that is, words like shukr , tasdfq and takdhlb , cannot possibly be 
given such a central position in any conceptual system in the Qur’an. 

The semantic field of kufr (disbelief) may be shown by this 
diagram (Picture B). The diagram has been intentionally simplified 
by the elimination of all the negative elements, that is, those words 
which constitute the positive side of the diagram showing the 
semantic field of fmdn (Picture A). All the key-words that surround 
the focus-word in this diagram are either those that signify partial and 
particular aspects of the concept itself of kufr or those that stand for 
concepts closely related to kufr in the Qur’anic context. 19 

As has been suggested above, the complexity of the whole 
system is greatly increased by the fact that, as a rule, one and the 
same key-word belongs, as key-word, in several different fields, 
forming in diverse spheres diverse semantical relations. Take for 
example the word daldl in the semantic fields of kufr . Dalai properly 
means “going astray” or “wandering off the right path”, the verb 
being dalla. It is part of the most remarkable religious conception of 
the Qur’an that Allah shows to the mankind the “right way” to 
salvation but only some of them take that way and many go astray. 
In terms of the semantic field we are discussing now, kufr (disbelief) 
in God is precisely the necessary result of man’s having chosen — or 
having been made to choose, as the case may be 20 — a wrong way 
instead of the only right one. In other terms, “disbelief’ and 
“wandering from the right path” refer to exactly the same thing from 
two different angles. And it is in this capacity that the word daldl has 
its proper place in the semantic field of kufr . But the point of interest 
is that this is not the only proper place assigned to the word daldl in 
the whole system of the Qur’anic vocabulary, as we shall see 

The concept of Way, sirat or sabll , plays a most prominent part 
informing the religious conception peculiar to the Qur’an. Even a 
casual reader will notice that the Qur’an from beginning to end is 
saturated with this idea. Most obviously sirat or its synonym sabll is 
the focus-word governing a whole semantic field composed of a big 
family of words, each one of which represents in its own way and 
from its peculiar point of view an essential facet of the Qur’anic 
thought. The key-words of this field may conveniently be classified 
under three major groups: 

1 . In the first place come those words standing for concepts that 
relate to the nature of the Way itself The Qur’an looks at this 
problem from the point of view of its being straight (mustaqlm. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Semantics and the Qur'an 


sawl , efc.) or crooked Qiwaj , muwajj , efc). 

2. Concepts relating to man’s choosing, or being guided to, the 
right way (huda, ihtida , r as had, etc). 

3. Concepts of wandering off the right way ( dalal , ghawayah , 

toT?, efc.) 

The diagram C gives, in a very simplified form, the structural 
framework in which various concepts relating to the central concept 
of Way are put together, showing in gross outlines how they are 
associated with each other in smaller groups which, again, are 
associated with each other in a positive or negative way, and finally 
integrated into the large semantic field of Way. 

There is here something more important to remark. If we 
compare the diagram C with the diagram B — that of the semantic 
field of kufr — we will notice immediately that the word dalal 
(“swerving from the right path”) is common to both systems. In other 
terms, the same word belongs in exactly the same capacity of a key- 
term in two different conceptual systems. As a key-term, it fulfils the 
same basic function in both B and C, but the concrete role it plays 
varies widely accordingly as it is regarded as a member of one or the 
other system. Dalai as a key-word of kufr appears in quite a different 
light from the same word functioning as a key-word of the field of 
sirat , because its associations are different in each case. And yet, on 
the other hand, it is also true that the word dalal does establish a 
connecting link between the two systems. Thus we see two major 
semantic fields of the Qur’an connected with each other in an 
extremely subtle but intimate way, -wilholjl losing their relative 

independence. Here, of course, I am intentionally simplifying the 
matter to the extreme degree, knowing that in many cases 
methodological over-simplication brings out better the fundamental 
structure of things. In reality, dalal is not the only point of contact 
between B and C; there must be discoverable many other such points. 
But the essential thing about our present problem is to see that a key- 
word may appear in several semantic fields at the same time in the 
capacity of a key-word, playing a different part in each one of them 
and yet functioning as a connecting link between them. 

This, in addition to the fact noted above that the focus-word of 
a semantic field may, and does often, make its appearance as an 
ordinary key-word in one or more other semantic fields, will give us 
a clear insight into the complexity of what is called ‘vocabulary’. 
Vocabulary as the sum total of all the semantic fields will then be 
seen as a vast and intricate network of multiple relationship that hold 
between the words, corresponding to an organized whole of concepts 
related with each other in a myriad of associative interconnections. 
Such an organized whole of concepts symbolized by the vocabulary 
of the community, a total conceptual system, I would call 
‘Weltanshauung’ — or, to distinguish it from other types of world- 
view obtainable by other methods, e.g. philosophical Weltans- 
chauung — ‘ semantic Weltanschauung ’ . 

It will have been observed that I have in what precedes always 
used the two terms ‘conceptual system’ and ‘vocabulary’ rather 
indiscriminately. This is due to the fact that the two, in my view, are 
but two different aspects of one and the same thing, that is, the 
linguistic is simply the other side of the conceptual. A ‘concept’, 
however it may be defined, 21 is in itself but an extremely elusive 
wooly thing, hard to grasp and always with a blurred outline. It 
begins to exist as an independent entity with a more or less fixed 
contour and stability only when it comes to be couched in a linguistic 
form, i.e ., a word. All concepts recognized and acknowledged as such 
in a given society in a given period of history tend, as a rule, to be 
linguistically fixed and stablized sooner or later and be thus given a 
tangible and relatively permanent form. Only then do they become 
entitled to be considered social entities in the real sense of the word, 
commonly open to all those who belong to the community. 
Theoretically, I do not in any way deny the possibility of the 
existence of l pre-Iinguistic’ concepts, blit ii they do exist, they lie 


Semantics and the Qur 'an 


outside the limits of our scientific interest. Anyhow whenever I use 
the term concept’ in this book i understand one having a definite 
word at its back. The same is true of the whole organized body of 
concepts, of which we have been talking. One and the same complex 
network ol associations is, in its linguistic aspect, a 'vocabulary’, 
and, in its conceptual aspect, a 'Weltanschauung 9 . And it is in this 
and only in this sense that we shall be interested, in the following, in 
the problem of semantic Weltanschauung of the Qur’an. 

It remains to say a word about the ultimate ideal which we shall 
have to pursue in carrying on this research. Since every system 
worthy of the name must have a patterning principle on which it is 
based, it would be natural to presume that, in our particular case too, 
not only each individual semantic field but the whole system of the 
Qur’anic concepts comprising within itself all the layers of associ- 
ative connection is based on a pattern which is peculiar to the 
Qur’anic thought, /.e, which makes the latter essentially different 
from all non-Qur anic systems of concepts, whether Islamic or non- 
Isiamic . 22 

To use the words of one of the outstanding pioneers of this kind 
of study, Edward Sapir, “there is such a thing as a basic plan, a 
certain cut to each system. To isolate this fundamental plan, or as 
Sapir himself has named it, the “structural genius” governing the 
nature and working mechanism of the whole Qur’anic system must 
constitute the ultimate aim of a semanticist approaching this 
Scripture, as long as he understands the discipline of semantics as a 
cultural science. For only when we succeed in doing this, can wc 
hope to succeed in bringing to light the Weltanschauung of the 
Qur’an, which will, philosophically be nothing other than the very 
“Qur’anic ontology” to which wc referred the beginning of this 

All this is of course a mere ideal, which, we must admit, is 
practically very hard to attain, or even never to be attained. The 
present study as a whole is but a first and very modest step towards 
this ultimate goal. 



1. For a well-balanced broad survey of the entire field covered by 
semantics together with a convenient brief presentation of the historical 
background, the reader is referred to Prof. Stephen Ullmann’s work, 
Semantics — An Introduction to the Science of Meaning, Oxford, 1962. 

2. In elaborating the idea of semantics as a kind of Weitanscbauungslebre 
I am greatly indebted to Prof. Leo Weisgerber of Bonn, who, since 
many years, has constantly emphasized the significance of human 
language as an intellectual process of world- formation ( Weltgestaltung). 
For a brief but very impressive summary exposition of his thesis see 
his reef Grundformen sprachlicher Weltgestaltung , Koln u. Opladen, 
1963. In many of the essential points his Humboldtian philosophy of 
language coincides perfectly with what is known today in the English- 
speaking world under the name of Sapir- Whorf hypothesis. As regards 
this latter theory see a most lucid critical examination by Prof. Paul 
Henle in Language, Thought and Culture , Michigan, 1958, Chapter 1. 
To all appearance, these two schools have long been developing the 
same type of linguistic theory on both sides of the Atlantic without 
being acquainted with each other. 

3. See later, Chapter 4, where the Qur’anic evidence concerning the pre- 
Islamic concept of Allah is discussed in a more systematic way. 

4. In quoting from the Qur’an, I give first Fliigel’s numbering of the 
verses and then that of the standard Egyptian edition (in brackets) 
whenever there happens to be discrepancy between the two. 

5. i.e., evidence showing that they are real. 

6. See Chapter 7, section III. 

7. ‘Antarah: Diwdn, ed. ‘Abd al-Ra’uf, Cairo, p. 22. Here the poet is 
addressing his beloved girl ‘ Ablah. The concept of the angel of death 
plays a considerable role in Qur’anic eschatology. A number of 
important passages (e.g. VI, 93) describe how angels will come and 
seize the soul at the critical moment of the death-struggle and bring it 
before the Supreme Judge. Besides, this concept itself was not in any 
way alien to the Jahill mind ( cf ‘Antarah, ibid . p. 81, v. 13) 

8. Surah al-Sajdah (32:13). 

9. See Chapter 9, section II, where these and other related words are 
carefully analyzed from the particular standpoint of the field semantics. 
Sec also the following section, where the two important words kufr and 
Islam will be treated as an illustration of the technical distinction 
between the ‘basic’ and the ‘relational’ meaning. 

SO rah 33:63, for example: “Men will ask you concerning the Hour 
{s<Vuh) Say: The knowledge of it is only with Allah. What can make 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

you know it? It may be that the Hour ( sd'ah ) is nigh.” 

11. For more details about kufr , see later, Chapter 9, and also my earlier 
work The Structure of the Ethical Terms in the Koran , Tokyo, 1959, 
where a whole chapter (9) is devoted to a consideration of the meaning 
of this word in the Qur’anic context. 

12. 6:91, where reference is made to the Jews who jealously keep their 
sacred Book of Moses having “put it into parchments”. 

13. c/, for instance, 52:30. , ^ e ^ 

14. For example, in 27:26, we read: ^ j ft Ui V dJi 

(“Allah! There is no god but He, the Lord of the great throne”), and 
in 20:4[5]: Js> (“The Compassionate One sits upon 

the Throne”). The importance of the concept of “Throne” may be seen 
from the favorite Qur’anic expression used in describing Allah 
“The Possessor of the Throne” (17:44[42]; 85:15). 

15. The common image of vocabulary as a dictionary where words are 
neatly arranged in an alphabetical order is out of question here. 

16. A technical term for designating those who lived the earlier half of 
their lives in Jahiliyyah , and the second half in Islam; in short, the 
contemporaries of the Prophet Muhammad. 

17. We may also go a step further in this direction and try to follow from 
this partcular point of view the Islamic culture in the ages of its 
progressive movement and creative development. The semantics of the 
Qur’an, once established, will supply a good and truly necessary 
preliminary to a fruitful study of all other semantic systems that arose 
after the Qur’anic period: theology, jurisprudence, philosophy, 
mysticism, grammar and rhetoric, to mention only the most important 
ones. This, of course, lies far beyond the scope the present studv. But 
I will try to give at least some idea of this interesting problem in the 
next chapter. 

18. As regards the close connection between this and l man , see above, p. 
15. Kufr (the verb kafara) has also been discussed there cursorily. As 
to the word nifdq , see my book The Structure of the Ethical Terms in 
the Koran , p. 168 ff. 

19. For a detailed analysis of all these words, see The Structure of the 
Ethical Terms in the Koran , p. 113 ff. 

20. The Qur’anic text suggests these two alternative views regarding this 
problem, a fact which causes later in Islamic theology the famous 
aporia of Divine predestination and human free will. See later, Chapter 
6, section II. 

21. In this book, as I did in my earlier one to which reference was made 
in the course of this chapter, I understand the word ‘concept’ in the 
scientific sense in which it is used by the authors of the outstanding 

i ema 

work, A Study of Thinking, New York, 1956, IS. Brunner, II 
Goodnow and G. A. Austin. The book contains m the form of an 
appendix a no less important paper on Language and Categories y 

Roger Brown. . . u 

22. This we shall see in .he next chapter. Particularly interesting w.l be 
the historical relation between the religious world-view of the Qur an 
and that of Islamic theology. 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 



Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 

Secondly, by following the semantic development of some of the 
key-terms of the Qur’an in non-Qur’anic systems that came into 
existence in Islam in course of time, we may be able to throw a new 
side-light on the peculiarity of the meanings which those words had 
in the Qur’an itself. Lastly, a careful examination of the problem of 
the possibility and significance of a historical semantics will clarify, 
by contrast, both the advantages and limitations of the methods and 
principles peculiar to static semantics, and, thus, enable us to 
combine in the most fruitful way the two semantics in analysing the 
structure of the Qur’anic vocabulary. 

I. Synchronic and Diachronic Semantics 

Properly speaking, most of the problems dealt with in the present 
chapter do not fall within the scope of this book which, as has been 
made abundantly clear in the previous chapter, purports to be strictly 
a study of the Weltanschauung of the Qur’an through its vocabulary. 
This naturally determines the extent to which our consideration will 
be allowed to go. Of the ‘history’ of the Qur’anic key-terms only the 
pre-Islamic, i.e., pre-Qur’anic part is necessary for our special 
purpose, in so far as it sheds a clear light on the formation of the 
‘basic’ meanings of the words. The historical development of the 
meanings in the post-Qur’anic ages is not in any way a matter of 
direct concern to us. 

If, in spite of this obvious fact, we still insist on paying attention 
at this point to a few at least of the significant questions raised by 
historical semantics regarding the vicissitudes that some of the key- 
terms of the Qur’an underwent in the course of history, it is chiefly 
for the following three reasons. First: since, generally speaking, an 
examination of a question from two or more different, but closely 
related, angles usually ends in a deeper and more comprehensive 
view of the matter, we might reasonably expect that in our particular 
case too, considering the problem of ‘vocabulary’ anew as a historical 
process, will, as a continuation of the above discussion, help towards 
clarifying some important aspects of the theoretical problems that 
have not been discussed fully in the last chapter. 

32 “ 

D 1 


Now to go right into the medias res , ‘vocabulary’ may be looked 
at from two basically different methodological standpoints. In modem 
linguistics these two angles or points of view are called ‘diachronic’ 
and ‘synchronic’, respectively. Diachrony, as its etymology would 
suggest, is a view of language, which as a matter of principle 
emphasizes the element of time in everything linguistic. Thus 
vocabulary is, diachronically, a bundle of words, each one of which 
is growing and changing independently in its own peculiar way. 
Some words in the group may come to a stop, that is, cease to be 
used in the society at a certain period (,4s); others may continue 
being in use for a longer time (5s); again new words may make their 
debut on the stage at a certain definite point of time and begin their 
history from that period (Cs). 

If wc cut horizontally the flow of history at a certain period, a 
cross-section is obtained, which may be pictured as a flat surface 
formed by a number of words that have survived the flow of time up 
to that point. On this surface, as we sec, /fs, 5s and Cs appear all 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


together, regardless of whether they have a long history behind them 
(A l and B 2 ) or a short one (A 2 and B j), or even none (C), while those 
that have already ceased to be active before this point (Ds) naturally 
do not participate in the composition of this surface, regardless of 
whether they have died out quite recently (D^ or long ago (D 2 ). Such 
a surface is precisely what we have meant in the preceding pages by 
‘vocabulary’ — an organized system of words and concepts. For it is 
on such a surface, and on such a surface alone that words appear to 
our eyes in the form of a complicated network of concepts. And the 
point of view which cuts across the historical lines of words and 
enables us in this way to obtain a static system of words, we call 

We may do well to remark that vocabulary in this particular 
sense, i.e., a static surface of words is something artificial, to be very 
exact. It is a static state produced artificially by our stopping with 
one stroke the flow of history of all the words of a language at a 
certain point of time. The resulting cross section gives us the 
impression of being static and standing still, but in reality it only 
looks like so. To put it in another way, it is static only when we look 
at it from a macroscopic point of view. Microscopically, the surface 
is seething with life and movement. This latter point comes out very 
clearly when a language is in a critical, revolutionary period, like, for 
example, modem Turkish. Old elements keep dropping off, new 
elements keep coming in; some of the newcomers find a good place 
in the system, but many of them disappear quickly to be replaced by 
others. The whole vocabulary changes its 
aspect even at very short intervals. And 
when a language stands in such a stage of 
transition and transformation, it is 
extremely difficult to obtain a relatively 
stable, static surface. 1 

Be this as it may, in normal cases we 
can obtain as many surfaces as we like by 
simply making such artificial horizontal 
cuts across the historical flow of words at 
several points (cross-sections /, //, III , for 
example, in the diagram). And if we 
compare these surfaces with each other, 
whether the whole surfaces or only some 

particular sections of them, we are doing historical semantics. 

Historical semantics, thus understood does not consist in tracing 
the history of individual words per se in order to see how they 
change their meaning in the course of history. This latter is the 
typically, 19 lh century approach to language. Real historical seman- 
tics, as we understand it now, begins only when we study the history 
of words in terms of the whole static systems to which they belong, 
when, in other words, we compare with one another two or more 
‘surfaces’ which one and the same language, say Arabic, presents at 
different stages of its history, separated from each other by an 
interval of time. 

The interval may be made long or short according to the purpose 
of our analysis. For instance, even the language of the Qur’an itself 
may be regarded as a historical process extending over some twenty 
years with two distinct periods, the Makkan and the Madlnan. In that 
case, we may quite reasonably make two horizontal cuts across the 
historical development of this language these critical points, and 
compare the two cross-sections with each other, if our aim happens 
to be the semantical study of the development of Islamic thought 
within the confines of the Qur’an. In fact, since Theodor Noldeke 
published his epoch-making view on this matter, many important 
discoveries have been made regarding the ‘history’ of the Qur’anic 
vocabulary, which have made it clear that the language of Revelation 
underwent a profound change semantically after the Prophet s 
migration to Madlnah. 2 Or, adopting rather a long-range perspective, 
we may also reasonably treat the Qur’anic vocabulary as a whole as 
a static system and compare it with other systems which came into 
existence later in Islam, as we are actually going to do in the present 

Now, as a general rule, in the case of a young and vigorously 
growing culture like that of the early Islam, the historical develop- 
ment of language shows a very marked tendency towards progressing 
complexity and proliferation. In our particular case, the triumph of 
Islam established the unshakable authority of the Qur’an as the 
Sacred Book, and the direct linguistic effect of this made itself felt 
in the fact that practically the whole Arabic vocabulary was brought 
under the sway of the Qur’anic vocabulary, and the Arabic language 
in its entirely eame to be affected gravely by this fact. 

In an al tempt In show this in the simplest and clearest possible 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

way, I would isolate three different semantic ‘surfaces’ in the early 
history of the Arabic vocabulary: (1) pre-Qur’anic, or Jahill , (2) 
Qur’anic, and (3) post-Qur’anic, particularly Abbasid. At the first 
stage thus distinguished, i.e., the pre-Islamic, we have, roughly 
speaking, three different systems of words, with three different world- 
views underlying them: (1) a purely Bedouin vocabulary representing 
the oldest and most typically Arabian Weltanschauung of nomadism, 
(2) a mercantile vocabulary, which is naturally closely related to, and 
based on, the former, which, however represents quite a different 
spirit and world-outlook, an outcome of the recent development of 
the mercantile economy in Makkah, which is therefore, deeply 
penetrated by words and ideas peculiar to the merchants of this 
town, 3 and (3) the Judeo-Christian vocabulary a system of religious 
terms in use among the Jews 4 and the Christians living in Arabia, 
including the more problematic Hanifitic system. 5 These three are the 
major constituents of the pre-Islamic Arabic vocabulary. 

The vocabulary of the Qur’an is, linguistically, a mixture of 
these three different systems. This does not mean, however, that 
words drawn from the three different sources exist in the Qur’an side 
by side as heterogeneous elements. The Qur’anic vocabulary is, as 
has been repeatedly emphasized in the preceding pages, a large 
semantic field, and as such it is an organized totality, a self-sufficient 
system of words into which all words, whatever their origin, have 
been integrated with an entirely new systematic interpretation. Take, 
for example, again the most important word Allah. The name of 
Allah , as we have already seen and as we shall see more in detail 
later, was not unknown to the pre-Islamic Arabs; it was widely 
known not only within the confines of the monotheistic Judeo- 
Christian circles, but even among the pure nomads at large. The fact, 
however, that the word was in use in Jdhiliyyah should not make us 
blind to another more remarkable fact that this same word Allah 
means something quite different in the Qur’an from what it meant in 
pre-Islamic times. And here we see the importance of the methodo- 
logical concept of ‘relational’ that has been introduced in the last 
chapter. The same old word Allah acquires in the Qur’an quite a 
peculiar relational meaning because of its position in the organized 

If wc compare the Qur’anic vocabulary with the pre-Islamic one 
as a whole, we notice immediately that the former has the supreme 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 

focus-word, Allah, which presides not only over one particular 
semantic field within the vocabulary, but over the entire vocabulary 
comprising all the semantic fields, that is, all the smaller conceptual 
systems that fall under it, while the pre-Islamic system of words has 
no such supreme focus-word. 6 This is one of the most fundamental 
differences between the two systems. And although, as we shall see, 
the pre-Qur’anic and the Qur’anic concepts have much in common 
in the meaning structure — not only as regards the ‘basic’ meaning but 
even a greater part of the ‘relational’ one — yet this one fundamental 
difference alone is enough to make the two systems totally different 
in nature and structure from each other in regard to the concept of 

a b 

In the Qur’anic system, there is not even one single semantic field 
that is not directly connected with, and governed by the central 
concept of Allah ( Picture A)? This situation it is that, as I said in the 
last chapter, the non-semanticists usually mean when they say that the 
world of the Qur’an is essentially ‘theocentric’. In the pre-Islamic 
system Allah is but a member of one specific semantic field (Picture 
B). There is a kind of conceptual coherence in the Qur’anic world- 
view, a sense of a real system based on, and centered round the 
concept of God, which is not to be found in the Jahill system. For 
here, in this new system, all the semantic fields, and consequently all 
the keyterms are under the sway of this central and highest focus- 
word. In fact, nothing can escape from it; not only those concepts 
that are directly connected with religion and faith, but all moral ideas, 
and even concepts representing the most mundane aspects of human 
life, such as marriage and divorce, inheritance, commercial matters 
like contracts, debts, tisuary, weights and measures, etc., have beer 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


brought into direct relation with the concept of God. 

Moreover, in the JahilT system, the concept of Allah stands side 
by side with that of alihah, ‘gods’ or ‘divinities’, with absolutely no 
incompatibility between them, except, of course, in the more 
narrowly limited and very particular field of Allah peculiar to the 
pre-Islamic Jews and Christians, which is not being taken account of 
for the moment . 8 There is in the JahilT system no sharp contrast 
observable between Allah and other alihah even where the former is 
made to stand at the top of the hierarchy of all supernatural beings. 
Besides this semantic field of supernatural beings itself occupies quite 
a peripheral place in the whole conceptual system of Jdhiliyyah in 
comparison with other more important fields that have more direct 
relevance to the tribal life of the Arabs, the sense of honor, for 
example, and social and individual virtues that have nothing at all to 
do with God and religion. 

There should be no misunderstanding here.' In the Qur’anic 
system, too, there is the concept of alihah. We must not confuse the 
ontological order of things with the semantic one. In other words, the 
fact that the Qur’anic world is essentially monotheistic should not 
lead us into thinking erraneously that semantically as well as 
ontologically, Allah stands alone without any peers. On the contrary 
there are concepts of ‘gods’ and ‘idols’ in the Qur’anic system. Only, 
all these stand in a negative relation to Allah; they are something the 
existence of which must be denied most emphatically. Speaking in 
more semantical terms, they are there in the Qur’an to be connected 
with the concept of ‘falsehood’ (, batil ), while the concept of Allah is 
to be connected with that of ‘truth’ ( haqq ). 

A further implication of the above statement is this: when we 
say that the name of Allah came into the Qur’anic system from the 
pre-Islamic one, this should not be taken to mean that of all the 
semantic elements associated with the name, only those that were 
considered ‘good’ from the Islamic point of view were accepted, 
while all ‘bad’ elements were simply left behind. The fact is that all 
the elements, both good and bad, came into the Qur’anic system and 
only in this new field some were accepted and some were rejected. 
And this process of rejection and acceptance is vividly depicted in the 
Qur’an itself. Otherwise, words like shank , (partner, viz. of Allah), 
and nidd (similar one) would never have be^n given a place there. 

Since the Qur’an is, linguistically, a work of genuine Arabic, il 

will readily be seen that all the words used in this Scripture have a 
pre-Qur’anic or Islamic background. Many of them came from the 
rank and file of pre-Islamic Arabic. In other terms, many of them, 
even those that were raised to status of key-words in the Qur’an, had 
been in pre-Islamic times common words standing far below the level 
of key-words. Such was for example the word taqwa which we shall 
analyze in detail in a later context . 9 As everybody knows the word 
acquired in the Qur’an an enormous importance as one of the most 
typically Qur’anic key-terms, one of the cornerstones on which the 
whole edifice of the Qur’anic piety was based. But before that, in 
Jdhiliyyah , it was an extremely common word that meant simply a 
very ordinary sort of animal behavior — self-defensive attitude with an 
accompanying sense of fear. 

But there were also a good number of words that came into the 
Qur’an in the capacity of key-terms with an important pre-Islamic 
history behind them. To put it in another way, some of the Qur’anic 
key-words had already been playing in Jdhiliyyah a remarkable role 
as key-words. Only, their semantic structure changed profoundly as 
they were transposed from one system to the other. As an illustration 
of the main thesis of this chapter, this latter case presents a more 
interesting — because more complicated — problem. As a matter of 
fact, some examples of this phenomenon haye been given in the last 
chapter. But there they were considered in connection with problems 
of a somewhat different nature. Here I will give an extremely 
interesting example as a forerunner, so to speak, of what will come 
later in abundance. 

The word I have in mind is harm. This word was a very 
important key-term in Jdhiliyyah, meaning nobility of lineage — a man 
“of noble birth”, going back to an illustrious ancestor by an 
unblemished pedigree. And since, in the old Arab conception of 
human virtue, extravagant and unlimited generosity was the most 
conspicuous and concrete manifestation of a man’s nobility, karTm 
had acquired also the meaning of a man characterized by an extra- 
vagant generosity going to the degree of our concept of a 

The meaning-content of this word had to suffer a drastic change 
when it was put, in the Qur’anic context, into a close relation with 
taqwd to which a passing reference has just been made. The Qur’an 
declared with utmost clarity that “the most karTm (noble)” of all men 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

was the one who took the attitude of taqwa towards Allah: 


Surely the noblest of you all in the sight of Allah is one who is 
characterized by the greatest taqwa. 

Al-Hujurat, 49:13 

Such a combination of two words, no one would ever have dreamt 
of in pre-Islamic times. This old Arabic word karlm, epitomizing an 
important aspect of the Arab outlook on life, was almost 
forcibly — we might say — put into an entirely new sphere of the 
monotheistic piety of Islam. It would be no exaggeration to say that 
this was indeed a revolution, revolution in the history of the moral 
ideas of the Arabs, for nobody in ancient Arabia would ever had 
thought of giving a formal definition of karam (nobility) in terms of 
taqwa (fear of God). From now on, a man worthy to be called 
‘noble’ in the real sense of the word was not a man of noble birth 
belonging to a noble family and noble tribe, nor was he a man who 
would go on squandering impulsively and thoughtlessly all his 
possessions without stopping to reflect for a moment that he and his 
whole family might, by his acting in this way, be driven to utter 
misery and ruin the very next morning. But precisely this latter 
feature used to be considered the most distinctive mark of a ‘noble’ 
man. And the ancient poets never tired of praising and extolling this 
virtue, for it was, together with that of bravery and valor on the 
battlefield, almost the only means of preserving one’s ancestral 

if We seek to defend our ancestral honor,” a poet in the Hamasah says, 
“with their (=our camels’) meat and with their milk; for, verily, a 
karlm is man who is able to defend (viz. his honor which has been 
handed down to him from his illustrious ancestors.)” 10 

This character which, as I have said, was one of the cardinal 
virtues in the eyes of the pre-Islamic Arabs, is, from the new 
Qur’anic point of view, not a real virtue at all. Nor is it real 
generosity even, because the ultimate source from which it springs is 


Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


sheer vainglory and pride, the desire to make a show of generosity. 
Such a man is, in the language of the Qur’an, “expends of his wealth 
simply for the pleasure of an ostentatious display, and not from his 
belief in Allah and the Last Day”: 

al-Baqarah , 2:266 [264] 

In another place it is clearly stated that those who squander away 
their possession from such a motive are but “brothers of Satan”. 

0} 0 yJ-i— J jXfi ^ j j J jl Ij 

Give the kinsman his due , and the poor, and the wayfarer . But 
never waste in sheer waste for those who squander are brothers 
of Satan , and Satan is ever ungrateful to his Lord. 

Al-Isrd 9 or Banu Isra’il , 17:28-29 [26-27] 

Here we see karlm which once embodied the highest Jdhill ideal 
of reckless generosity as the direct manifestation of nobility, in the 
process of transforming itself into something entirely new and 
different through the influence of a new semantic situation. The idea 
of generosity itself suffers a profound change; at the same time, and 
in correlation with it, the word karlm comes to be applied to a truly 
pious believer who, instead of expending his wealth blindly and 
thoughtlessly and merely for display, never hesitates to expend it for 
a definite purpose which is really ‘noble’ in the new conception, i.e., 
in alms, “in God’s way” (ft sabll Alldh) ] \ being always careful to 
strike the happy medium, between sheer prodigality and sheer miser- 
liness, 12 and that from the deep religious motive of taqwa . 

Thus one and the same word makes its appearance with the same 
basic meaning in these two successive systems, but it is given an 
entirely different value and entirely different connotations according 
as it is used as a key-term in one or the other because of the parti- 
cular associations it forms around itself in the particular sector of the 
system. And exactly the same thing happens between the Qur’anic 
vocabulary and the subsequent systems, albeit in a far subtler and, 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


therefore, less obvious way. This we shall see presently. 

II. The Qur’an and the Post-Qur’anic Systems 

When we come down to the third stage of development as 
distinguished above, that is, the classical age of Islamic culture, we 
meet with a proliferation of relatively independent conceptual 
systems. In other words, Islam produced many different systems of 
thought in the post-Qur’anic periods, theology, jurisprudence, 
political theory, philosophy, mysticism being among the most 
important of them. Each of these cultural products of Islam 
developed its own conceptual system, i.e., its own ‘vocabulary’, itself 
consisting of a number of sub-systems just as we have seen in the 
case of the Qur’anic vocabulary. Thus we are fully entitled to speak 
of the vocabulary of Islamic theology, the vocabulary of Islamic 
jurisprudence, the vocabulary of Islamic mysticism etc., in the exact 
sense as defined above. And the whole body of these various 
vocabularies constitutes the vocabulary of the Arabic language in the 
classical age of Islam. 

In view of the tremendous and, indeed, peerless importance of 
the Qur’anic vocabulary as the very language of Divine Revelation, 
it is quite natural that all the post-Qur’anic systems were deeply 
influenced by it. All of them, in their linguistic aspect, were in 
varying degrees dependent and based on the vocabulary of the 
Qur’an. They could grow and flourish, so to speak, only on the soil 
that had already been prepared by the language of Revelation. 
Semantically this situation may adequately be described by saying 
that many, if not all of the key-terms in these systems were supplied 
by the Qur’anic vocabulary. Even in the case of words that were not 
capable of being traced back to the Qur’anic source, conscious effort 
was often made to relate them in some way or other to this or that 
expression in the Qur’an. The authority of the Qur’an was so great 
that every system had thus to have recourse to the Qur’anic 
vocabulary for its material elements, if not directly at least indirectly. 

Besides, speaking in more general terms, the Arabic 
language — or, any language for that matter — however rich it may be, 
is not rich enough to supply each of the different systems with an 
entirely new and different set of words. So nfost of the elements used 

in constructing the systems must of necessity be common to them. 
Only, each elaborates nearly the same elements in its own peculiar 
way, and thereby constructs an independent network of words and 

It is not necessary for our present purpose — nor is it at all 
possible — to consider in detail the semantic structure of these post- 
Qur’anic systems. Each would call for separate treatment. Here I 
must content myself with referring to only three of them — theology, 
philosophy and mysticism — and giving a few typical examples in 
each case in order to illustrate the main contention of this chapter. 

Of all the conceptual systems that grow up in the classical period 
of Islam, theology (kalam) is the one that is most faithful and loyal 
to the Qur’anic vocabulary. The theological thinking begins to 
flourish among the Muslims partly under Greek influence but largely 
and mainly as a natural growth necessitated by the changed historical 
conditions in which Islamic civilization finds itself now. So let 
theology be our first object of consideration. 

The very first point to notice about Islamic theology is that its 
material is almost wholly Qur’anic. And in this particular case, we 
may justifiably take the word ‘material’ in a wider sense than strictly 
linguistic, for almost all the basic problems of theology owe their 
origin to the Qur’an itself, and are therefore traceable in some way 
or other to the Qur’anic thought and its verbal expressions. Islamic 
theology, in short, is essentially based on the teaching of the Qur’an. 
It was, after all, the result of the effort of the human intellect and 
reason to grasp this very teaching more systematically and theore- 
tically. It is natural, then, that its key-terms* were largely supplied by 
the Qur’anic vocabulary. Almost all the major concepts of Islamic 
theology were directly taken from the Qur’anic text, and in many 
cases theological terminology was but a scholastic and theoretic 
elaboration of the words and phrases of the Qur’an. Of course, the 
principle itself of conceptual organization was quite different in each 
case; otherwise there would have been no theological vocabulary as 
an independent system of concepts. And yet, on the whole, the 
vocabulary of Islamic theology may be said to have remained more 
faithful to the Qur’anic one than any other system. 

Thus theology would seem to furnish a very suitable occasion 
for discussing in concrete terms one of our major theoretic problems. 
If, on (he one hand, the theological vocabulary is, in a certain sense, 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

a continuation and development of the Qu’ranic one, and, as such, 
owes much of its material to the latter, and yet, on the other hand, 
constitutes an independent conceptual stem by organizing the whole 
material according to its own principle of structural ization, then the 
difference between the two will have to be sought mainly in the 
‘relational’ side of the key-terms. The difference, however, is in 
many cases extremely subtle, and difficult to grasp, particularly when 
exactly the same words are used in almost exactly the same contexts. 
The opposition of kafir (infidel) and muslim (Muslim) offers an 
excellent example, as we shall few paragraphs later. 

I would like to begin by taking up an easier case. Even the word 
Allah is made to change its conceptual structure when it leaves the 
Qur’an and the theological system. In theology, the central position 
occupied by this word remains of course the same as in the Qur’anic 
vocabulary. It is still the highest focus-word reigning over the whole 
system. And all the key-concepts are still under the undisputed sway 
of this highest concept. So, apparently, nothing has changed. And yet 
we observe here a profound inner transformation that has taken place 
just under the surface. 

The structure of the concept of Allah was transformed in this 
new system, first and foremost, by its having been put into a direct 
conceptual relation to the so-called Ninety-Nine Most Beautiful 
Names. Of course, if we look for these ‘ninety-nine names’ in the 
Qur’an, we find them already adumbrated everywhere. The Qur’an 
is full of words and phrases that describe Allah from various angles: 
Allah is such and such — for example, He is wahid (One), ghafur 
(All-forgiving), rahim (Merciful) etc. etc . ; and Allah does such and 
such a thing — for example, He “speaks”, He “creates” etc. etc. But 
these and the like are there in the Qur’an as simple descriptions that 
should be taken naively as they are, without sophistication. In 
theology, this principle of simple and unsophisticated understanding 
is no longer kept intact. For the theologians, all the concepts of this 
kind represent so many manifestations of the very nature of God; 
they are, in other words, all Divine attributes, that is, inherent 
qualities of the Divine essence. 

This means simply that the concept of Allah has now come to 
be understood in terms of ‘essence’ (dhat) and ‘attributes’ ( sifat ), and 
this, again, means that the theologians have now assimilated the 
typically Greek way of thinking, which terids to interpret the whole 

Qur'anic Key-Terms in History 

world of being and existence in terms of ‘essences’ and ‘attributes’. 
As part of the grand scale process ot the arabization of the Hellenistic 
heritage, so characteristic of the Abbas id period, this may have to be 
considered an achievement worthy of acclamation. But front the 
purely and strictly Qur’anic point of view, this marks nothing but a 
big step away from the original form of thought. 11 We read, for 
example, in the Qur’an that God “speaks” to man, but in no way is 
speaking regarded there as an attribute of Allah; there is not even a 
slightest suggestive hint tor such interpretation. While in theology 
‘speech’ (kaldm) constitutes one of the most essential Divine 
attributes. This is not surely the Qur’anic approach. And the concept 
of God itself, when understood in this way as a transcendental 
‘essence’ opposed to its ‘attributes’, is no longer a Qur’anic concept 
in its original form. 

It is not the scholastic theology alone that caused such a radical 
inner transformation in the conceptual structure of the word Allah. 
Other systems did same thing, each according to its dominant mode 
of thinking. This point will be made thoroughly clear by a compa- 
rison of the theological vocabulary with those of mysticism and 

There are grounds for regarding Islamic mysticism, or Sufism, 
also as continuation and development of the basic religious teaching 
of the Qur’an. Semantically this means that the mystics make use of 
many Qur’anic words as their key terms. Compared with the 
theologians’ use of the same words, however, theirs is in most cases 
extremely free and even arbitrary. They tend to attach to the words 
they find interesting in the Qur'an meanings— i.e. ‘relational’ 
meanings— that are detached from the actual contexts, their guiding 
principle being always one of symbolic interpretation. It is quite 
natural that the symbolic meanings that they read into the words turn 
out in many cases to be of an essentially different nature and far 
removed from those attached to the same words by the theologians. 

The mystic system affects most profoundly even the central 
concept of Allah. Several remarkable points of difference occur tc 
our mind as worthy of notice in this connection, but here it will be 
enough to consider briefly the most conspicuous and decisive one. Ir 
all non -mystical systems as well as in the Qur an itself, Allah 
epistemologically, can only be an object of 'itm. In other words Got 
cun only he known to man indirectly. Man is not allowed to approacl 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur'anic Key-Terms in History 


God too closely. You cannot see God without any veil ( hijab ), at 
least in this world . 14 There can be here no intimacy, i.e., an 
immediate personal communion. Certainly, God reveals Himself, but 
He does so only through his dyat (signs). And man, on his part, is 
allowed to know God only through the dyat, that is, natural things 
and natural phenomena understood as so many ‘signs’ indicative of 
Divine goodness, majesty and power . 15 Even Moses who, in the 
Qur’an, is allowed to come closest to Divine Presence cannot look 
God in the face. This kind of knowledge given “from behind the 
veil”, to use the Qur’anic expression, is ‘ilm. It is an indirect sort of 
knowledge that can only be gained through some other things that are 
directly given to man . 16 

The mystics, in Islam as elsewhere, claim to have a knowledge 
of God that is essentially different from this: ma'rifah, that is 
‘gnosis’, a direct, immediate, and most intimate sort of personal 
contact, which in some form or other culminates in a personal union 
of the knower and the known, just as a lover and his beloved become 
united in the experience of love into one person. 

As is obvious, this changes everything. Not only is the concep- 
tion of human nature and human psychology completely transformed, 
but the very concept of God must necessarily change in its semantic 
structure by being made an object of ma ‘rifah, while in the non- 
mystical systems it can only be an object of 'ilm. Semantically we 
may describe this situation by saying that the ‘relational’ meaning of 
the word Allah varies according as it is taken is the object of mystical 
ma ‘rifah or as the object of normal human ‘ilm. 

Of course, as long as you are a Muslim, Allah you believe in 
remain objectively always the same God of the Qur’an, whether you 
are a mystic or theologian. But the aspect of this God, which mani- 
fests itself in your conception of Him is quite different in each case. 

denotatum or 



means man 

In the diagram here given, a man {a), an ordinary orthodox Muslim, 
forms for himself the concept of God through ‘ilm, while (h), a 

mystic, does the same through ma ’rifah. The resulting concepts A and 
B, as concepts, arc essentially different from each other, although the 
denotatum, i.e., the objective God Himself, lying beyond these 
concepts is exactly the same. So essential and fundamental was this 
difference between the two concepts that the Islamic orthodoxy often 
came to the conclusion that the concept A and concept B of God 
could not refer to one and the same God. And this naturally led to a 
very grave indictment against the mystics. For if, in reality, the 
denotatum itself — not the concept — of the God of the mystics was 
different, the latter would simply be doing nothing other than worshi- 
pping a different God from the God of Islamic Revelation. Many 
mystics had to face the constant danger of being accused of heresy 
by the intransigent orthodoxy, in spite of all the references they made 
to the Qur’an in defence of their position. In this sense the mystic 
exegesis of the Qur’an is of paramount importance and interest to a 
semanticist . 17 

When we turn from mysticism to philosophy, we find the same 
process of semantic transformation pushed further ahead. If, of all the 
post-Qur’anic systems, theology remained on the whole most faithful 
to the original Qur’anic usage of words and concepts, Islamic 
philosophy took a bold and determined step in the direction of arabiz- 
ing a foreign system, and this is disclosed with particular clearness 
in the usage of the most important Islamic key-terms, Allah, for 
example, nabiy (prophet), wahy (revelation), aql (intellect), and 
others. The matter is complicated because it is not a simple 
straightforward departure from the Qur’anic usage of these words. 
The philosophers, who, Arabs or non- Arabs, used Arabic as their 
intellectual tool in thinking and wnting, struggled, on the one hand, 
to build up a new vocabulary in Arabic language, which would be 
capable of expressing with exactitude Greek ideas and concepts, and 
yet, on the other, tried to attach it to the Qur’anic tradition. Hence 
the very peculiar nature of the relational meanings that grew around 
the Qur’anic terms. 

Thus the word Allah, which is being the central point of oui 
interest now, does no longer denote in philosophy simply the samt 
thing as that living God of Creation and Revelation as He is sc 
vividly depicted in the Qur’an, Among the theologians, too, the 
concept suffers, as wc have just seen, a drastic change, and yet it i: 
still an intellectual and theoretic elaboration of the original Qur’anit 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


conception. Here, among the philosophers, the underlying image is 
not so much the Qur’anic one of God as the Aristotelian concept of 
the cosmic ‘Mover’ plus that of the Plotinian ‘One’. The philosophers 
do their best to show that they are just trying to bring out the deep 
philosophic meanings that lie hidden under the Qur’anic expression. 
They do use Qur’anic words and expressions in describing Allah; 
they refer to the Qur’an, and they treat problems raised by the 
Qur’an. But this of course does not satisfy the pious believers, as is 
shown in the most outspoken way by the harsh expression which the 
intransigent theologian Ibn Taymiyyah uses in reference to them: “a 
small insignificant group of the ignorant philosophers” (Juhhdl al- 

The philosophers assert, for instance, that their ‘God’ can be in 
reality no other than the God of the Qur’an, the Lord of Creation. 
But there appears on the stage a man like al-GhazzalT ls who tries to 
tear off mercilessly the veil to disclose the real nature — as he sees 
it — of the philosophical concepts. He shows for example, how in his 
view Avicenna’s khalq (creation) is but a mock-concept, i.e., a 
pseudo-concept of creation, which has, in reality, nothing at all to do 
essentially with the true Qur’anic concept of Divine Creation, and is 
even susceptible of being considered a flat negation of the latter, 
because it is nothing but a disguised form of the neo-Platonic concept 
of Emanation. 

It will be obvious that the language of Islamic philosophy 
presents a number of extremely interesting problems to the seman- 
ticist. Some of them that appear to be directly relevant to our imme- 
diate concern will be dealt with theoretically towards the end of the 
present chapter. There I shall try to show by some concrete examples 
the truly singular make-up of the philosophical vocabulary as a 
conceptual system in Islam. Meanwhile I would like to go back to the 
vocabulary of the theologians, from which we have deviated, and 
discuss a few interesting cases which would illustrate my main 
contention on historical semantics. 

I have no intention at all here to go into historical details even 
as regards the four or five key-terms that I am going to take up. This 
is evidently not a proper place for a discussion of that kind; it would 
belong to the semantics of Islamic theology. My intention is only to 
show, in connection with immediate theoretic problem that concerns 
us, how in course of lime Ihere occur gradually and almost imper- 

ceptibly, in most cases — shifts of emphasis, changes in interest and 
subjective approach in the understanding of one and the same word, 
as it moves from one system to another. What I am going to give is 
a broad and general outline, just the skeleton of the matter, so to 
speak, without flesh and blood. 

With this initial understanding, we shall take up as our first 
example the conceptual pair formed by the words muslim (Muslim) 
and kafir (infidel) which stand, as is obvious, in opposition to one 
another. If we trace these two Qur’anic key-terms back to the earlier 
pre-Islamic stage, we notice that originally they did not even form a 
pair. Both words were there certainly, but there was no essential 
connection between them. Moreover, neither of them had any 
religious connotation, muslim meaning “a man who hands over 
something precious to another who demands it of him” and kafir “a 
man who does not show gratitude to his benefactor”. It is only at the 
second stage of development, that is, within the Qur’anic system, that 
the two are put in opposition to one another. In other words, the 
Qur’an brings them together for the first time and puts them into one 
semantic field, putting muslim on the positive side and kafir on the 
negative. This semantic field is that of Tman (belief) which we have 
come across earlier. 

In this new field, kafir (or, to use the corresponding nominal 
form, kufr) stands opposed to Tman contradictorily, while Islam (the 
nominal form corresponding to muslim) and Tman are complementary 
concepts. Most obviously, emphasis, in the Qur’an, is mainly and 
predominantly placed on the contradictory opposition of Tman-Islam 
and kufr . And this reflects faithfully the real state of affairs in the 
earliest period of Islam, when the Prophet and the small number of 
his followers were fighting hard for the establishing of the new 
religion and had to wage a fierce war against those who refused to 
accept it. It was literally a war between Islam and kufr , between 
‘Muslims’ and 'Kafirs'. The situation was such that everybody had 
to make a decision as to whether he should choose Islam or kufr. 

Only in an important passage, Islam is made to stand in sharp 
contrast to Tman and the two are clearly and very consciously 
distinguished from each other. 

oUV U-Lfj^uX 

50 God and Man in the Qur’an 

The Bedouins say: “We believe [man].” Tell them: “You do not 
believe yet. You should say rather, f We have surrendered 19 
[Islam], for the belief [Tman] (in the true sense of the word) has 
not yet permeated your hearts ” 

Al-Hujurat , 49:14-15. 

This is, indeed, a remarkable statement, because here we see 
Islam defined in the clearest possible terms as the first step towards 
Tman , a preparatory stage at which ‘faith’ has not yet penetrated deep 
into the heart. However, we must bear in mind another significant 
fact that this definition of Islam was given in explicit reference to the 
Bedouins of the desert, whose lukewarm nature in religious matters 
is often referred to not only in the Qur’an but also in HadTth. As 
regards ordinary Muslims, the Qur’an never makes such a distinction. 
Far from being a superficial kind of ‘faith’, Islam , as a spiritual act 
of the complete surrendering of one’s self to Divine Will, is regarded 
as a supreme religious value. 

As a matter of fact, in normal contexts, the two words muslim 
(a man of Islam ) and mu ’ min (a man of Tman) are used inter- 
changeably, both being used to denote a man who has chosen the 
straight way of Divine Guidance (huda) and thereby escaped from the 
future punishment of Hell. In more technical terms, we might say that 
the two words have exactly the same denotatum although each of 
them refers to this same denotatum through a different connotatum. 
As our diagram shows, the same concrete individual, say, Hasan, may 
be referred to differently as “a man who believes in God” or “a man 
who surrendered himself to God”. That is to say, the two words refer 
to different conceptual aspects of one and the same person . 20 

denotatum connotatum word 

In any case, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the 
contrast bet Tman and Islam was, at the Qur’anie stage, far less 
important and crucial than the sharp opposition in which these two 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


concepts as a unit stood to kufr. The opposition muslim(-mu f miri)- 
kdfir was one of the burning problems that confronted the nascent 
community of Islam. 

This fundamental conceptual opposition was carried over just as 
it been into the theological system that arose in the post-Qur’anic 
period. Now, from the semantical point of view, Islamic theology is, 
as we saw earlier, a conceptual system based essentially on the 
Qur’anic vocabulary. It inherits from the Qur’an a whole body of 
words and concepts. The opposition we are talking about is part of 
this conceptual heritage. So nothing changes apparently as regards the 
basic pair, muslim-kafir. However, if we examine the matter more 
carefully we find that there has occurred a subtle, but clearly obser- 
vable shift of emphasis and interest, a change in the fundamental 
outlook on the same problem. In other words, the contrast between 
muslim and kafir , though outwardly the same, does no longer carry 
exactly the same meaning. And this is attributable to the changed 
cultural situation in which the Islamic community has found itself. 

Islam as a religion has now long been established. Arabia as a 
whole embraced this religion; then, immediately following this, the 
islamization of the major part of the ancient world of civilizations has 
changed the cultural map of the world. Within this well-established 
system of Islam, it is naturally no longer necessary to lay so much 
stress on the opposition of Muslims as monotheists and kafirs as 
polytheists. In place of this old opposition, there appears a new 
opposition of concepts, which begins to occupy the attention of the 

The rise of the Kharijiyyah , KharijT sect, brings right into the 
Islamic sphere of concepts itself the basic contrast between muslim 
and kafir. As far as the outward form goes, this contrast remains just 
the same, but its inner structure is no longer the same. For the 
problem does not fundamentally concern any longer the difference 
between the Islamic monotheist and the pagan polytheist or idolater. 
It concerns now a distinction within the very confines of Islamic 
monotheism, among the very Muslims. For, according to the view 
held by the Kharijitcs, a Muslim, once he has committed a grave sin 
ceases to be a muslim\ he must be considered a kafir destined for 
Nell, and may, therefore, even be justifiably killed. This introduces 
into Islam a very dangerous element, because the concept itself of the 
"grave sinner” is one of an extremely flexible or mobile nature in the 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

sense that it is susceptible of being extended to any direction so that 
it may include anything one does not like. 21 Take, for example, the 
famous Hadith preserved by al-Tirmidhf in his Collection of 
Authentic Hadith 22 concerning the Qur’anic exegesis, which runs: 

.«yf jl’yhl fit 

One who interprets the Qur’an according to his personal opinion, that 
is, not according to the knowledge, 23 has proved himself by that very 
fact to be a kafir . 

We can picture from this the gravity of the situation if we 
remember that this and similar bitter indictments were made freely 
and were even circulated in the name of the Prophet. 

(i) (ii) 

Islam Idolatry 

M= Muslim K= Kafir 

(Diagram A) 

(0 (ID 

Islam Non-Islamic World 

M= Muslim K= Kafir 

(Diagram H) 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


It is quite understandable that such a general state of affairs 
came to be reflected in the semantic structure of the word kafir, and, 
consequently, of the word muslim. Hitherto these words had been 
signs of two fixed categories, and the basic contrast between them 
had been somewhat like this (see diagrams on page 52). 

In the circle (I) which symbolizes the earlier Islamic community, 
every member is a Muslim. And no Muslim can conceivably be a 
kafir , as long as he believes in the unity God and recognizes 
Muhammad as the Apostle of God. In the Diagram B, the circle (I) 
still represents the Islamic community. But we perceive a remarkable 
change that has taken place here. Now the concept of kafir has been 
brought right into this circle, and muslim and kafir form a sharp 
conceptual contrast in the very midst of the Islamic system. 
Henceforth a Muslim, that is, one who believes in God and 
acknowledges Muhammad as the Apostle of God, may very easily be 
turned into a kafir and publicly labeled as such merely by thinking 
or acting in this or that way. The concept kafir has lost its denotative 
stability and fixedness, and become something mobile, ready to be 
applied even to a pious Muslim if he happens to do this or that. Thus 
we see that this is not a mere continuation of the Qur’anic contrast 
between muslim and kafir, but an essentially new one, in a certain 
sense at least, although the two words still keep their basic meaning 
and a greater part of their relational meaning as well. 

It is implied in the very nature of what we generally call a 
‘system’ that, if any important point in it happens to be changed or 
moved, reprecussions inevitably make themselves felt in all the 
remaining parts of it. The changed relation just described between 
muslim and kafir made it incumbent upon the Muslims to take up the 
concept of muslim itself, to examine its content more systematically 
and to define the word afresh in terms of the new historical and 
social situation in which they lived. This may be considered, as 
Wensinck 24 has said, an attempt made by the young Muslim 
community to define its own position, not against other communities, 
but, primarily, for itself. Such was indeed the compelling force of the 
age. Further, this must be viewed against background of the 
increasing intellectual tendency among the Muslims, which was 
remarkably directed towards theoretic and systematic speculation, and 
through speculation towards more and more rigorous structural ization 
of Islam 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


It was in accordance with this new intellectual trend that the 
problem of the relation between Man and Islam became a matter of 
no small concern to Muslim thinkers. The principal problem 
regarding Man (belief) was now how its concept was structured, not 
so much in contrast to kufr , as it had been case at the Qur’anic stage, 
as in itself. The question, in short, was: Of what and how many 
conceptual elements was it composed? And the question, conceived 
and formulated in this way, necessitated that the answer be given also 
analytically. Thus the various answers that were actually given to this 
basic question were all strikingly ‘analytic’, in the sense in which 
modem semantics understands the word. Al-ShafiT’s famous 
definition of Man in terms of three concepts: (1) assent by heart, (2) 
public verbal confession, and (3) the observance of religious duties, 
was a clear attempt to answer this question through conceptual 
analysis. Al-Ash‘an’s no less famous formula is another example, 
which makes Man consist of (1) ‘saying’ (qawl) and (2) ‘doing’ 

( ‘amal). 

A great number of different answers were offered in the course 
of the development of Islamic theology by different sects and, indeed, 
by different individuals. The Murji’ites (murji'ah), for example, held 
that Man should properly be defined in terms of ‘knowledge’ — Le. 
knowledge of God, excluding thereby ‘doing’, that is, actions, from 
the concept of ‘belief. The Karramites ( karrdmiyyah ), to take an 
extreme case, took the view that Man should be defined solely in 
terms of ‘saying’, that is, verbal confession (al-iqrar bil-lisan). This 
definition led to a grave, but extremely interesting, theoretic 
consequence. 25 

They held that a man who kept kufr (disbelief) secretly in his 
heart but professed Man should be considered a mu ' min (believer) in 
the real sense of the word, although he was destined to live after- 
wards in the Fire eternally, while a man who had real Man in his 
heart but did not publicly confess it was not mu ' min , although he was 
actualy going to be rewarded in the Hereafter by life of eternity in 
the Garden. 

Such technical discussions on the structure of the concept of 
Man raised inevitably the problem of the exact conceptual relation 
between Man and Islam , both of which, as we saw, had meant in the 
earlier period practically the same thing. And the concept of Islam , 
loo, was submitted to a semantical analysis. 

Here again a number of divergent definitions were offered. But 
the commonest type makes Islam consist of what later comes to be 
known under the name of the Five Pillars of Islam. The first and 
foremost place is occupied by the Man itself; then come salat (ritual 
prayer), zakat (alms-giving), sawm (the fast — of Ramadan) and hajj 
(pilgrimage to Makkah). In other words, understood in terms of a 
hierarchical combination of the concept of Islam is now understood 
in terms of the concept of faith with those of the cardinal religious 
duties. Semantically this is tantamount to saying that the concept of 
Islam now constitutes a small but typical semantic field by itself, 
with Man as its focus-word and the remaining four words 
surrounding it. 

As we have seen above, Islam in the Qur’anic context meant 
initially “self-surrendering (to God)”. The corresponding verb aslama 
was inchoative; it signified that a man, by this very act of self- 
surrender, went into an entirely new phase of life, that something 
entirely new started from that moment in his life. This original 
connotation became very much obscured, if not completely lost, in 
the new conceptual system life. Here we have a clear case of the shift 
of emphasis in the structure of word-meaning to which reference was 
made earlier. 

This kind of semantic elaboration of concepts, with ensuing shift 
of emphasis is observable everywhere in the Islamic thought of that 
age. Here I will give one more example, which is similar to but 
somewhat different from, the case we have just examined. The word 
is ( ilm, meaning generally ‘knowledge’. 

The basic meaning of this word, to be more exact, is one’s 
knowing something about something — ‘knowledge by inference’ as 
opposed to and distinguished from ‘knowledge by acquaintance’ in 
the terminology of Lord Russell, as we have already seen. As far as 
concerns this ‘basic’ meaning, the word stands for one and the same 
concept whether it is used in pre-Islamic poetry, the Qur’an, or 
theology. But its ‘relational’ meaning differs in an essential point 
from system to system. The difference comes from the 
conception — which varies from case to case — of the ‘source’ from 
which the knowledge is derived. In other words, what matters most 
in determining the real concrete semantic structure of the word *ilm 
is the question: Where have you derived your knowledge from? It 
will be easy to understand this point if wc remember that ‘knowledge 

i ft 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

by inference’ is by definition a piece of derived knowledge, that is, 
something induced from some given data. 

In Jahiliyyah , ' ilm meant primarily a kind of knowledge about 
something, derived and induced from one’s own personal experience 
of the matter. ‘ Ilm in this sense was opposed to zann , which meant 
the result of mere subjective thinking, and, as such, something 
groundless and, therefore, unreliable. The following verse by the 
famous pre-Islamic poet Tarafah brings out this contrast very clearly: 

1 J ^ 

What he wants to say is this: “I know through experience that 
when a near relative (or cousin) of a man has (been allowed to) fall 
into an humiliating situation, that would mean no other thing than 
that he himself has fallen into such a situation”. And he emphasizes 
that this is his ‘knowledge’ ( 'ilm), and not a mere zann . By this he 
means that this is an absolutely reliable knowledge because he has 
derived it from his own experience, which is quite different from a 
piece of groundless thinking with no objective guarantee to support 

In the JahilF conception, ' ilm may have its source in something 
different from this: tribal tradition. It is a particular kind of know- 
ledge that has been handed down from generation to generation in the 
tribe, which, therefore, has the tribal authority behind it. In reality, 
this is not at all different in nature from the first kind. For it is 
nothing other than the result of innumerable pieces of personal 
experience by different persons that have been gradually accumulated 
through ages and handed down as an immaterial tribal asset. This 
latter type of knowledge guaranteed by repeated experiences through 
untold ages goes easily beyond the limit of a tribe and tends to 
become what we may call a national asset of the Arabs as a whole. 
Such knowledge is usually formulated and propagated and handed 
down to posterity in the form of proverbs (i amthdl ). Hence the very 
great value attached to proverbs in ancient Arabia. And it was part 
of the important function of poets to give terse and forcible 
expressions to this kind of knowledge. 

In conclusion, we may give a brief definition of the word ' ilm 
as understood by the pre-Islamic Arabs by saying that it is a sound, 
well-grounded piece of knowledge guaranteed by personal or tribal 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 57 

experience which, therefore, can claim an objective and universal 

In the Qur’an, the word becomes a very important religious key- 
term. It goes without saying that here I am putting out of consi- 
deration ' ilm as: Divine attribute, for that is another problem. Wc arc 
concerned now only with ‘ ilm as a human phenomenon. In the 
Qur’an 77m is still used in opposition to zann , as well-grounded 
knowledge opposed to groundless pseudo-knowledge. So here again 
nothing has changed apparently. 

Only, we notice that there has occurred a radical change in the 
conception of the ground for validity. Tim is, as I have said, an 
absolutely reliable piece of knowledge because its validity is fully 
guaranteed by something objective because it has been derived from 
a good source. Thus far its meaning is the same whether the word 
occurs in pre-Islamic poetry or the Qur’an. But the ground, the 
source from which it is derived is remarkably different in the two 

In the Qur’an, the word is placed in the new conceptual sphere 
of Divine Revelation and associated with other words than those it 
used to be associated with in Jahiliyyah', it is now knowledge derived 
from the Revelation of God, that is, information given by no other 
than God Himself; it has an objective validity because it is based on 
the ‘Truth’ ( Haqq ), the Divine Haqq which is the only Reality in the 
full sense of the word. Compared with the absolute reliability of this 
source, all other sources are essentially and by nature unreliable. And 
viewed in this light, the old 77m, i.e., that kind of knowledge that 
used to be considered sound and well-grounded in Jahiliyyah because 
derived from one’s own personal experience must be degraded to the 
lower degree of zann . 

Quite a big part of what has once been regarded as well-ground 
knowledge in Jahiliyyah must now be considered something essen- 
tially groundless: mere fancies and surmises, conjectures. A great 
number of Qur’anic verses may be adduced in illustration of this 
fundamental change. Here is, one of them: 

" ' V " 

Of (hat (hey have no certain knowledge ('ilm) They are merely, 
conjecturing (zann) 

A! Jdihiyah, 45:23 |24 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


This is said in reference to the Kafirs who stubbornly refuse to 
believe in God and the Hereafter, and say emphatically that “There 
is nothing but our earthly life. We die, we live, and that is all!", as 
if they had an ultimate knowledge about human destiny. In reality, 
the Qur'an declares, what they have is not 7/m; it is a mere 
conjecture. 26 

The Qur’an goes a step further and makes it clear that the 
ground or source of zann is hawa , i.e., the natural inclination of the 
impulsive and perverse human soul which is by nature blind and 
reckless in its behavior, as is well shown by the pre-Islamic usage of 
the word hawa in the sense of the blind passion of love. Zann, in this 
sense, is often paraphrased in the Qur’an as ittiba' al-ahwa’ 21 
meaning literally “the following of one’s own personal caprices”, and 
is, in this form, put in opposition to 7/m, which, in such a context, 
means, in short, nothing but Divine Guidance, or Revelation. 

Nay, but those who do evil (i.e. Kafirs) follow their own 
caprices , without knowledge . 

Al-Rum , 30:28 [29] 

Here the expression bi-ghayri Hlmin (‘without knowledge’) must not 
be taken in the simple sense of ‘without knowing’, i.e., ‘uninten- 
tionally’. For, according to the Qur’an, the evildoers do what they do 
very consciously. The word 77m carries greater weight, and bi-ghayri 
‘ilmin means “instead of having recourse to 77m ” — Him being 
understood in the sense just explained. The contrast between ittiba. ‘ 
al-ahwa’ and 77m comes out still more clearly in a verse like the 

gr-L; j* ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ 

If you should follow their caprices (ahwd ’), after the knowledge 
(Him) that has come to you, then you would have no protector 
against God nor any defender. 

Al-Rad, 13:37 

Thus there is no room for doubt that the word 77m, when it is 
used in the capacity of a key-term in the Qur’an, means the 
knowledge derived from the absolutely reliable source, which is 
nothing other than Divine Revelation. And the same wprd in the 
well-known Qur’anic phrase al-rdsikhuna fl al- Hlmi (“Those who are 
firmly rooted in knowledge”), which designates the true believers, 
can be understood only in this sense. 

This relational meaning which the word has acquired in the 
Qur’an is brought into Islamic theology. Here, again, the fundamental 
semantic structure shows no change. Only, the conception of the 
absolutely reliable source becomes enlarged, because now the 
traditions of the Prophet have established the claim to rank with the 
Qur’an as another real source of 77m. And this necessarily alters the 
whole balance of power in the system. Moreover, we observe here 
even a subtle shift of emphasis and interest. That kind of absolute 
knowledge based on Divine Revelation, upon whose supreme impor- 
tance the Qur’an so emphatically insisted, is no longer a problem for 
debate and discussion, as it once was between Muslims and Kafirs. 
In the well-established Islamic world, its importance is so self-evident 
to be discussed; it is something to be simply taken for granted. The 
attention of the Muslims is now drawn mainly towards the nature of 
the other source of true 77m, which, although human in nature and 
not divine, is, nevertheless, said to be capable of furnishing human 
knowledge with something like super-human validity. 

Under such intellectual conditions, with the problem of the 
validity of HadTth occupying the attention of the thinkers, the word 
Him comes to acquire the meaning of a very particular kind of know- 
ledge I hat can be traced back by an unbroken and unblemished chain 
of authorities to the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions. “On 
such and such an occasion the Apostle of God gave such and such an 
opinion on such and such a question”. This is 7/m. It is a kind of 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

absolute knowledge, because its source is the Prophet himself, who, 
as Imam al-ShafiT pointed out, 28 is mentioned in the Qur’an side by 
side with God in the form of “Allah and His Apostle”. Only those 
who, in making any statement, base their assertion on this absolutely 
reliable authority, are infallible. All others arc but followers of their 
own personal ‘caprices’ (■ ahwa '). And any assertion based on hawd 
is called ray (personal opinion), meaning an arbitrary, groundless 
opinion. It is to be noticed that the word ra y carried in those days 
a far greater weight than the simple translation ‘opinion’ would 
suggest, because it was directly associated by many people with 
downright kufr . It may also be interesting to notice in this connection 
that the orthodox school of theology often referred to heterodoxy as 
ahl al-ahwa \ lit. ‘people of caprices’. 

By this summary history of the word Him through three different 
stages — Jdhiliyyah , Qur’an and theology — together, with the conside- 
ration that preceded it of the field of Fmdn, islam and kufr , I think I 
have illustrated how concepts undergo a gradual and subtle semantic 
change each time they are introduced into a new system. So much for 

We shall bring this chapter to an end by discussing in some 
detail the nature of the vocabulary of Islamic philosophy so that we 
might have an occasion to examine the basic problem we have been 
dealing with from a somewhat different point of view. 

In opening this new section, will it be necessary to remind the 
reader that the motive from which I take up now this subject is not 
the desire to talk about Islamic philosophy for its own sake? My real 
aim is to explain by a concrete example what I have called the 
‘diachronic’ view in semantics, i.e. a comparative examination of the 
various conceptual systems that arise in the course of history within 
the confines of one and the same language, which, in our particular 
case, happens to be Arabic. 

Now Arabic, at the apogee of the Abbasid period, becomes an 
extremely rich and highly organized cultural language — indeed, one 
of the most important among all the cultural languages of the world. 
Its richness does not consist merely in the astonishing number of the 
words used, but, first and foremost, in the number and complexity of 
the conceptual associations, i.e., systems, that they form among 
themselves. The philosophical vocabulary is one of them. 

The tremendous importance and interest which the rise and 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 61 

development of Islamic philosophy presents to the semanticist lies in 
the fact that, semantically, it was a most radical and daring attempt 
on the part of the outstanding philosophers to create their own voca- 
bulary away from the linguistic authority of the Sacred Book. In fact, 
the vocabulary of the philosophers in Islam has one very remarkable 
peculiarity which, linguistically, makes it something of an essentially 
different nature from all other sister systems, like theology and 
jurisprudence, mysticism, etc., that arose in Islam in the post- 
Qur’anic period. All these were, from the linguistic point of view, 
invariably a natural growth and elaboration of the original genuine 
Arabic language, each in a particular direction. Nothing was forced 
upon Arabic and its natural resources from outside. Certainly, remar- 
kable changes did occur in many places, as we have seen above. 
Theology, in particular, was very much influenced by Greek 
philosophy in the formation of its linguistic tool. But cases of this 
kind were after all, sporadic and were not systematic. On the whole 
we might say that the growth of the post-Qur’anic vocabularies was 
a result of a spontaneous and natural process of conceptual trans- 
formation which was brought about and made necessary by the 
changing cultural situation. Philosophy forms the exception. 

Only in the case of philosophy, a complete system of foreign 
concepts, a very particular conceptual network that had originally 
nothing at all to do with the Arabic language and its world-view was 
given from outside as the ideal model. And in order to meet the 
demand of this stranger, the conceptual network originally existent in 
Arabic had to be largely disorganized and reorganized, and many new 
concepts that were quite alien to the Arab Weltanschauung were 
forcibly introduced. In short, a whole new system of concepts had to 
be built up on the Greek model. 

Here the Muslim intellectuals learnt new concepts first and then 
had to look for suitable words in the Arabic language to symbolize 
them. But since the concepts themselves were foreign, there occurred 
naturally discrepancies between thought and language everywhere. 
Not even one single key-term of Greek philosophy found a perfect 
equivalent in the Arabic language, to be very exact. A similar 
situation had already occurred when Greek philosophy began to be 
transplanted in the Roman world in the Latin language. Cicero 
complained of the difficulty of handling Greek concepts in Latin 
because ol the immalunly of his language, however rich it was, for 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


an abstract philosophical thinking. But the distance between Greek 
and Latin was both culturally and linguistically almost minimum 
when compared with that between Greek and Arabic. 

Thus the Arabic language, in this case, had to face suddenly the 
overwhelming impact of a foreign thought with a long historical 
process behind it, fostered in an entirely different cultural milieu, and 
couched in a language which was in many important respects even 
diametrically opposed to it. Here Arabic had to abide a most crucial 
test in its capacity as a cultural language. And it did stand the test. 29 

The result was that there appeared in the Arabic language a very 
particular sort of vocabulary — a conceptual system on a grand scale, 
based on the semantic principle of what I would call ‘semi- 
transparency’. This I shall try to explain in the following. 

Let us, to begin with, recall the very fundamental fact that 
Arabic is a language which, besides being astonishingly rich in basic 
words, shows an amazing capacity in deriving new words out of 
given material with a systematic regularity. This rendered it possible 
for the philosophers to find — not without difficulty, to be 
sure — almost always genuine Arabic words whose ‘basic’ meaning 
corresponded at least approximately to the basic meaning conveyed 
by the Greek philosophical terms. In such cases, all they had to do 
was strip the Arabic words in question of their ‘relational’ elements 
that had grown around the ‘basic’ meanings and replace the former, 
by means of definition, by the relational ones peculiar to the 
corresponding Greek words. 

The word ' aql , to take a typical example. This word in pre- 
Islamic times roughly meant ‘practical intelligence’ displayed by man 
in ever-changing situations. This corresponds to what is called in 
modem psychology the problem-solving capacity. A man with ' aql 
was a man who, in whatever unexpected situation he was put, could 
find by himself some means of solving the problems arising from the 
new conditions and find a way out of the danger. Practical intel- 
ligence of this kind was greatly admired and highly estimated by the 
pre-Islamic Arabs. And no wonder, for otherwise it would have been 
impossible to live safely in desert conditions. The famous robber-poet 
al-Shanfara uses this word exactly in this sense in the following verse 
in which he boasts of his being naturally endowed with such practical 

As long as a man keeps his intelligence active (wa-huwa ya ‘qilu) there 
can be no embarassing situation in which he may not know what to do 
(dTq) whether he be on his way to what he desires or hastening away 
from some thing he detests . 30 

In the Qur’an, this word, as a key-term, acquires a more 
specified religious meaning. There, in contexts of decisive impor- 
tance, it is used to mean the intellectual and spiritual capacity of the 
human mind, which enables man to understand the ‘signs’ (ayalf x 
that God graciously shows to the mankind and to grasp their deep 
religious implications. 

Making reference, for example, to the rain which God “sends 
down from heaven” so that it might give life again to the earth after 
its temporary death, it is said: 

Verily therein indeed are signs (dyat) for people who keep their 
aql active (ya ' qiluna , verbal form corresponding to the noun 

Al-Rum , 30:23 [24] 

Likewise, referring to one of the ancient Cities that were 
destroyed by Divine wrath which their inhabitants incurred upon 
themselves by their wrongdoings: 

OjlflJLi ^ jjjJ Aj!*. LS" y 

Verily we have left out of the (City) a clear sign (ayat) for 
people who keep their ‘aql active. 

Al-‘Ankabiit, 29:34 [35] 

Here the mouldering ruins of an ancient city are interpreted as 
“a clear sign” of the lash of Divine wrath, a grave warning to those 
who refuse to believe in God. Similar examples abound in the 

The same word aql comes into Islamic philosophy, again as one 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


of its key-terms. But its semantic content, that is, the structure of the 
concept symbolized by the word is no longer the same, because the 
whole underlying world-view is entirely different, being something 
essentially foreign to the traditional Arab one. Whenever we come 
across this word actually used in Islamic philosophy as a technical 
term, we are strictly required to understand it, not in terms of the 
original meaning which it carried before the rise of philosophy as a 
genuine, Arabic word, whether in Jahiliyyah or in the Qur’an, but in 
terms of the Greek concept of nous in its Aristotelian and neo- 
Platonic sense. This is not in any way a natural development of the 
pure Arabic concept of 'aql, but something artificial. At least 
initially, it was artificial. 

The same old word ‘aql is still used, as if nothing changed. In 
reality, it has undergone a remarkable change, for the word has been 
made ‘transparent’, as it were; we are required to “see through it, and 
to read the Greek word nous behind it. Just as in modem times we 
have to read behind the Arabic word shuyu ‘iyyah the European word 
‘communism’, and behind qawmiyyah (nationalism), so here, too, the 
Arabic word ‘ aql must be understood in accordance with the meaning 
structure of the Greek word nous, which it has acquired in classical 
and Hellenistic philosophy. The word has now a very particular 
meaning of ‘intellect’ on a grand cosmic scale covering all the 
successive stages of Emanation, from the Universal Intellect which 
is the first emanation from the Divine essence down to the human 
intellect and reason. 

Let it be noticed, however, that this word, as a genuine Arabic 
word, carries its own long history on its back, and this weighty past 
cannot help making itself felt, to a certain extent at least, whenever 
the word is used, even in philosophy. This proves a hindrance to its 
acquiring complete transparency. Hence the very peculiar state of 
semi-transparency of this kind of words. And it is characteristic of 
Islamic philosophy that almost all its key-terms are of this type. 
Semantically, Islamic philosophy is a very curious system consisting 
of ‘semi-transparent’ words. 

The reason why I would call this type of word ‘semi-transparent’ 
will be made much clearer if we compare words like qaumiyyah, 
‘nationalism’ (from qaum, ‘people’ or ‘nation’) and wad'iyyah, 
‘positivism’ (from wad', ‘putting’) in ngodcm Arabic with such words 
as di m ilq rat iyyah (democracy) and tekfln (telephone) The latter 

words are completely transparent; Western words are there palpably 
in the most naked form, while words like qaumiyyah and wad'iyyah 
mean what they mean only through the intermediacy of genuine 
Arabic words, each one of which has its own proper meaning and 
history in Arabic language. The word wad'iyyah, for instance, would 
mean literally ‘positing-ism’ because wad ‘ means ‘putting’ or 
‘positing’, and this much of literal meaning functions as a semantic 
bridge between the two words, i.e., wad'iyyah and ‘positivism’; the 
point is that, through this middle term, one should be led to the 
Western concept itself of ‘positivism’ in a flash, passing over the 
bridge as lightly as possible. 

In this respect, the contrast, again in modem Arabic, between 
telefun and hatif both meaning ‘telephone’, is very interesting and 
illuminating. Or as we have just seen, completely ‘transparent’, being 
nothing but an arabized form of the word ‘telephone’ itself, and the 
other is obviously ‘semi-transparent’. ‘Semi-transparent’ here means 
that the word has its own long history behind in the Arabic language 
and that this heavy history still tends to make itself felt whenever the 
word is used. Hatif in classical Arabic means “somebody whose voice 
you hear but whom you do not see anywhere around”. In this we find 
the word often used in old Sufi literature in reference to some 
mysterious voice calling a future mystic from somewhere in heaven, 
urging him to renounce the worldly pleasures and turn to other- 
worldliness. The existence of such a weighty past naturally offers a 
serious obstacle to the word’s becoming a simple sign of a new idea 
introduced from the West only recently. Compared with its rival 
telefun, which is ‘transparent’ from the very outset, hatif finds itself 
in a very difficult situation because it has to overcome the obstacle 
before it can become a perfect Arabic equivalent of the word 
‘telephone ’. 32 

The problem that concerns us next is that of the degree of semi- 
transparency. 'Aql which we have treated above is a typical example 
of the case in which semi-transparency was achieved in an ideal way. 
But in many other cases the semi-transparency was not achieved so 
easily. The word ‘aql as an Arabic equivalent of the Greek nous did 
not present any serious problem to the philosophers because the basic 
meaning was roughly the same in both languages. Sometimes it so 
happened that the Muslim thinkers — or to be more exact, the first 
translators from Greek to Arabic starting from a given Greek 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

concept, did not find easily a word, within the Arabic vocabulary, 
with a basic meaning which would make it an appropriate equivalent 
of the Greek word; the concept of Being is an example in point, to 
take by far the most important of all. 

As everybody knows Greek philosophy from its very beginning 
till its end was consistently and predominantly concerned with the 
problem of being and existence. In other words, ontology was the 
central preoccupation of the Greek thinkers. Consequently the concept 
of being occupied the most important place in their philosophical 
thinking. This is particularly conspicuous in Aristotle, who was 
admittedly the greatest teacher of the Arabs in this matter. 

The Arabs, on the other hand, had traditionally shown no 
concern at all with such a problem particularly at such an abstract 
level of thinking. Certainlly, even aJahilf Arab knew that things did 
exist, including himself, his camels, and other people around him, but 
he had never made the ‘existence’ itself of such things a particular 
subject for reflexion. Being a matter of no concern, there was no 
corresponding concept, and there being no concept, there was no 
word to express it. 

Speaking in more general terms, we may say that the Arabs as 
a whole were a least metaphysical people. The general and the 
universal did not attract their attention. Their dominant — and almost 
exclusive — concern was with individual, concrete things, or rather, 
the concrete aspects of the concrete things. The ancient Arabs seem 
to have taken an infinite delight in scrutinizing with a most penet- 
rating eye details after details of the concrete things that they saw 
around them. Hence the astonishing richness of the Arabic vocabulary 
expressing all the observable aspects of all the concrete things. But 
they, to all appearance, were lacking in the genius of going in the 
opposite direction, i.e., that of going up step by step from the most 
concrete individual things and their concrete material aspects to 
general and abstract ideas tracing the logical lines of connection 
between individual things and abstract ideas. They were funda- 
mentally ‘particularists’ in this sense. 

Here I cannot resist the temptation to quote a few lines from the 
Fajr al-Islam (“Dawn of Islam M ) by the late Prof. Ahmad Amin of 
Cairo . 33 In chapter IV of this remarkable book, dealing with the 
problem of “The Intellectual Life ofthpAfabs in Pre-lslamic Times”, 
he writes as follows: 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


The Arabs did not look at the world with a general comprehensive 
view, as did the Greeks, for example, the latter, when they began to 
philosophize, encompassed the whole world of being with a general 
view and put to themselves questions like the following: How did this 
world come into existence? The world as I see it is full of changes and 
alterations; is not there behind all these changing things one 
unchangeable principle?... The whole world as I see it looks like 
something essentially one, all the parts of which are connected, with 
each other, and which, as a whole, seems to be following some 
immutable laws; What, then, is this order? How and from what did it 

These and other similar questions the Greeks put to themselves, and 
that was the origin of their philosophical thinking* the very basis of 
which was thus a comprehensive view of the world. The Arabs, in 
contrast to them, did not look in this direction, and that even after the 
advent of Islam. They looked around themselves, and if by chance the 
eye caught some particularly interesting sight, they got excited and the 
surging emotions would find an outlet for expression in verses or 
proverbial sentences... 

As to a comprehensive view and a careful analysis of the principles 
and properties of the things that excited such emotions their intellect 
( ‘aql) found them quite foreign to itself. Moreover, even when an Arab 
did look at a thing, it did not usually induce in his mind a deep 
reflection on the object; on the contrary, he would merely stop at this 
or that particular aspect which aroused his interest. When, for instance 
he stood in front of a tree, he would not view it in its entirety: he 
would only fix his sight upon some particular point of it, the 
straightness of its trunk, for example, the beauty of its branches, etc. 
Standing in front of a garden, he would not try to get an extensive of 
the whole of it, nor would his mind try to have a photographic grasp 
of it. His mind would rather be like a bee flying from flower to flower, 
taking sip from every flower. 

It is this peculiarity of the Arab mind that explains both the defect 
and beauty that you find in Arabic literature, even in that of the later 
Islamic ages. 

... In short, the Greek mind if it looks at something, looks at it as 
a whole, examines it, and analyzes it while the Arab mind goes around 
it, and discovers there beautiful pearls of various kinds, which however 
arc not strung together into a necklace. 

As is easy to see, people of this type make first-rate lyrical 
poets, bul are not good by nature for philosophy. This implies also 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

that their language will be at its best in lyrical poetry, and at its worst 
in ratiocinative philosophy, for its vocabulary, if left to itself in its 
natural state, would not develop abstract concepts that are indis- 
pensable for metaphysical thinking. 

The concept of Being was one of the most important abstractions 
that were lacking in the vocabulary of the Arabs — the abstract 
concept of to einai which was a haunting obsession of the Greek 
philosophical mind. When it came into the Islamic world, and the 
thinkers really felt themselves forced to look for a word in the Arabic 
language that might stand appropriately for this concept, two words 
offered themselves . 34 

One of them was the verb kana ( kawn ). But this was far from 
being the exact equivalent of the Greek abstract concept of Being, for 
the verb meant basically “to take place” or “come to pass”. There is, 
in other words, an important element of ‘becoming’ in the meaning 
structure of this word: not pure ‘being’ but ‘being’ as something that 
is bom and then goes on growing or changing in course of time: 
werden instead of sein, the Germans would say. 

So quite naturally the word ends in Islamic philosophy by 
becoming rather the Arabic translation of another Greek word genesis 
which was used by Aristotle as an important technical term of his 
ontology, to designate the concept ‘coming into being’, i.e., the 
dynamic process of ‘becoming’ rather than the static idea of ‘being’ 
pure and simple. 

Another candidate was the root WJD, with the basic sense of 
‘finding’. This root-meaning, particularly when taken in the passive 
sense ‘to be found’ ( wujida ), comes tolerably near to the meaning of 
to einai. At least it excludes connotation of ‘becoming’ or ‘coming 
into being’; moreover it conveys the sense of something being there 
by chance: in other words, of something being there simply existent, 
without its being necessary to be there. This last element, which in 
philosophical terminology is called ‘contingency’ is something 
essential in the conceptual structure of ‘being’ and ‘existence’, except 
of course in the only one case of the ‘Necessary Being’ ( wdjib al- 

In this way the word wujud with the understanding that one 
should take it in the passive sense of ‘being found’ came gradually 
to be established as the Arabic equivalent of to einai. 

However one cannot help feeling that something foreign and 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


strange had been forced here upon the Arabic language from outside, 
and in fact the word wujud in this philosophical sense remained for 
a long time outside the common Arabic usage. This we can see from 
the causal remarks made by al-Ghazall in his Maqasid al-Faldsifah 35 
to the effect that “it often happens to be difficult to make the word 
wujud understood in the strictly philosophical sense so that it is 
necessary and desirable from time to time to use a foreign word if 
the philosophers want to make themselves quite clear”. 

And we see also Ibn Rushd (Averroes) hesitant to use this word 
without reserve, for, as he says, it often misleads the readers. The 
passive participle of the same verb mawjiid is used in Islamic 
philosophy as the Arabic equivalent of the Aristotelian to on (Latin 
ens): i.e., ‘being’ in the sense of “something that exists” or an 
“individual substance”. But, according to Ibn Rushd, many people, 
instead of making the Arabic word mawjud semantically semi- 
transparent and reading directly the Greek concept to on behind it, as 
they should do, make the word mawjud opaque, so to speak, and tend 
to understand it in the sense of “something found”, which is, really, 
the basic meaning of this word in Arabic. That is why, he says, the 
new abstract noun huwTya, lit. ‘he-ness’ or ‘it-ness’ has been coined, 
from the pronoun huwa (he), as a more accurate equivalent for the 
Aristotelian subject-substance, i.e., individual substances . 36 

It will have been seen from what precedes that a comprehensive 
and systematic re-examination of the history of Islamic philosophy 
from the particular point of view of semantics is something that will 
richly repay the effort. Such a study will not only bring to light a 
great many interesting points regarding the details of semantic trans- 
formation which individual concepts underwent; it will, further, 
contribute much towards letting semantics advance as a cultural 
science, i.e., as a really productive tool for research in the scientific 
analysis of weltanschauungs . This, however, is mnentioned here only 
as a possible future task. It is not necessary — nor is it possible at 
all - for present purposes to go into any more details. What I wanted 
to do in the last section of this chapter was simply to show, first, that 
there can be theoretically such a thing as ‘diachronic’ semantics 
which differs in its fundamental attitudes from ‘synchronic’ 
semantics, but is, at the same time, intimately connected with the 
latter, and, secondly, by way of illustration, how Islamic philosophy, 
as a conceptual system, had to take great pains in developing its own 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 


vocabulary within the confines of Arabic vocabulary, under the 
immediate and ovewhelming influence of an entirely foreign 
conceptual system. 

Let us now turn to our proper subject: the problem of the 
structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung. 


1. This is the main reason why it is so difficult to compile a good 
dictionary of present-day Turkish. 

2. There is a certain respect in which Prof. Montgomery Watt’s works, 
Muhammad at Mecca , Oxford, 1953 and Muhammad at Medina , 
Oxford, 1956, may be rightly regarded as a comprehensive study of 
this phenomenon. As one of the most interesting examples we may 
mention the very problematic word tazakki , which he discusses from 
the philological point of view in Muhammad at Mecca (Excursus D). 
He shows there how this word representing the important religious 
concept of ‘self-purification’ or ‘being purified’ falls off gradually and 
fades out in course of time before another more important word Islam 
meaning ‘self-surrendering’. 

3. Regarding the significance of this particular vocabulary in the 
formation of the Qur’anic language, see, for instance, C. C. Torrey, 
The Commercial-Theological Terms of the Qur’an , Leiden, 1892. 

4. We must remember that Madlnah at that time was one of the biggest 
centre of Judaism. 

5. As regards Hanlfs and their language, see later Chapter 4, section V. 

6. Except, of course, in the narrower section of the Judeo-Christian 
monotheistic ideas. But evidently the Jews and Christians are not in 
any way representative of the pre-Islamic Arabia. They are, after all, 
a local phenomenon, linguistically at least. 

7. In the diagram A, the central area surrounding the word Allah 
represents a semantic field consisting of words which stand for various 
concepts used in the Qur’anic description of what Allah ‘does’ and ‘is’. 
This is what will develop later in Islamic theology into what is known 
under the name of ‘Divine attributes’ (sifat Allah). 

8. For a detailed consideration of the relation between the purely Jahill 
conception of Allah and the Judeo-Christian one, and the influence 
which the latter might have exercised' upon the former before the name 

of Allah came into the Islamic system, See Chapter 4, which is 
exclusively devoted to this very problem. 

9. See Chapter 9, section II. 

10. Dlwan al-Hamdsah (shark al-Marzuqi % ed. Ahmad Aman and ‘Abd al- 
Salam Harun 4 vols., Cairo, 195 1 , Number DCCXLVI, 2, the name of 
the poet unknown. 

11. See for example, 57:57; 2:263-264 [261-262]. 

12. See 17:31-32 [29-30]; 25:67. 

13. This point has been brought out admirably well by Dr. Daud Rahbar 
in his book, God of Justice , Leiden, 1960. See particularly its 
introductory chapter. 

14. Thelogically, this is the famous problem of ‘Beatific Vision’, which 
has been much discussed by the theologians in Islam. 

15. Hence the paramount importance attached in the Qur’an to the concept 
of dyat. A passing reference to this point has already been made above, 
but the problem will be dealt with more systematically in a later 
context (Chapter 6). 

16. The distinction may be brought out by saying that we know about God, 
but we do not know God. In the terminology of Bertrand Russel, Him 
is ‘knowledge by inference’ as opposed to and distinguished from 
‘knowledge by acquaintance’. 

17. Goldziher’s study, Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung , 
Leiden, 1920, may regarded as a good introduction to this problem. 

18. Abu Hamid al-Ghazall (or al-Ghazzall), 1059-1111. His Tahafut al - 
Falasifah , known in the West as Destructio Philosophorum is a 
systematic refutation of Islamic philosophy represented by Avicenna 
(Ibn Sina, 980-1037). Besides, his argumentation in this book is 
pricipally based on a conceptual analysis. And many passages of it may 
be adduced, as they are, even as an illustration of the analytic 
technique of modem semantics. 

19. Or, “We have become Muslims (formally)”. 

20. The Qur’anic connotation of mu ’min, according to the definition given 
by the Qur’an itself, is this: a man who has an unwavering faith (man) 
in God and His Apostle, never conceives doubt, and is ready to stake 
his wealth and life for the cause of God (cf. 49:15). The connotation 
of muslim is: he who has surrendered his whole being, soul and body, 
to God, and to God alone, absolutely (cf. 2:122 [128]; 125 [131]). 

21 . For a brief but illuminating explanation of Kharijite thinking on this 
problem, see Montgomery Watt, Islam and the Integration of Society, 
London, 1961, pp. 99-102. 

22. Sahfh al-Tirmidhf , Cairo, 1950, 11, 157. The hadith here quoted is to 
all appearance Npurious, but this gives a better ground for regarding it 


72 God and Man in the Qur’an 

as a faithful reflection of the tendency of the age. 

23. Thereby is meant the particular kind of knowledge that can be traced 
back by an unbroken chain of truthful transmitters to the Prophet or his 
immediate companions. 

24. A. J. Wensinck, Muslim Creed , Cambridge, 1932, chapter III. 

25. See Imam al-Haramayn, al-Juwaynl: Kitdb al-lrshad , ed. M. Yusuf 
Musa and ‘All ‘Abd al-Mun‘im ‘Abd al-Hamld, Cairo, 1950, p. 386. 
The Karramites were the followers of Muhammad b. Karra — hence the 
name karramiyyah — in the second century of Hijrah who upheld the 
principle of extreme anthropomorphism in the interpretation of the 
Qur’anic description of God. Imam al-Haramayn himself, by the way, 
takes the view that iman means nothing but tasdiq , ‘considering true’ 
(viz. God and consequently, His Messenger) which is the only 
definition possible “linguistically”, as he says. (ibid. 397). 

26. This is an extremely important passage disclosing as it does to our eyes 
the dark pessimistic mood which underlied the Weltanschauung of the 
pre-Islamic Arabs, and which drove many of them, particularly, the 
more reflective minds, to a notoriously riotous and dissolute life (cf. 
The Structure of the Ethical Terms in the Koran , chapter V). This 
passage shows that, from the Qur’anic point of view, the pre-Islamic 
pessimism is nothing but a result of zann , and is, therefore, completely 

27. ahwd ’ pi. of hawd. 

28. See his famous Risalah, Cairo, 1940, ed. Ahmad Shakir, for instance. 
The entire book may be taken as a clear manifestation of such an 
attitude towards this problem. 

29. The problem is not only of historical interest. It is also of 
contemporary relevance, because present-day Arabic is again faced 
with a big problem of a similar nature under the impact of Western 
culture, namely, the pressing need of assimilating the key-concepts of 
the West and creating a new vocabulary out of old material, a 
vocabulary that will be rich enough and flexible enough to cope with 
the new situation of the world, and that without overstraining the 
natural morphological and lexicological resources of this language. In 
fact, all the non- Western nations' are faded with the same problem. And 
the problem is, extremely important because it is not a mere matter of 
language, but a matter of Weltanschauung , namely, the question of how 
we should articulate and interpret the world we live in. It is, in this 
sense, a big problem that involves grave cultural issues. 

30. Ldmiyyah al-’Arab, v. 4. 

3 1 . See chapter 6, section I. . 

32. As a matter of fact, the word /iJ/*/ ha^ succeeded in milking itself 

Qur’anic Key-Terms in History 

‘semi-transparent’ in Syria and Lebanon, where it is currently used in 
daily life, but not in Egypt. As regards the more general problem of 
the arabization of the Western present-day Egypt, we have an 
extremely valuable book by Mr. Mahmud Taymur, Mu ’jam al-Hadarah 
(Lexicon of Modern Culture ), Cairo, where almost all the names of 
things and ideas belonging to modern civilization that have recently 
been introduced into Arab world are classified and examined critically 
one by one. 

33. Ahmad Amin, Fajr al-Isldm , Cairo, 1955, p. 41-44. 

34. See the most lucid exposition of this problem by Mile. Goichon in her 
Philosophic d’Avicenne, Paris, 1951, chap. II, to which I am greatly 
indebted in what follows. 

35. al-Ghazall, Maqdsid al-Falasifah , Cairo, al-Tijariyyah, 2nd ed. 1963, 
II, p. 8. 

36. Goichon, op. cit. p. 78. 


The Basic Structure of the 
Qur ’ anic W eltanschauung 

I. Preliminary Remark 

This chapter aims at giving a bare outline of the basic structure of the 
Qur’anic Weltanschauung as a preliminary to a more detailed analysis 
of some of the most important semantic fields that will come in the 
remaining chapters. Such a total picture is indispensable if we want 
to be in a position to assign the appropriate places to the particular 
problems that are going to occupy us; regarding the relation between 
God and man in the Qur’an. For, as we know already, the proper 
position of each individual conceptual field, whether large or small, 
will be determined in a definite way only in terms of the multiple 
relations all the major fields bear to each other within the total 

Furthermore, there is a more immediate reason why we should 
begin our work by trying to obtain a general view of the conceptual 
scheme of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung. As will have been made 
abundantly clear in the preceding two chapters, the semantical 
analysis of the Qur’an, in the sense in which we understand it in this 
book, does not mean a lexicographical treatment of the whole 
Qur’anic vocabulary, z.e., a study of all the words that happen to be 
there in the Qur’an, but it means an analytic and systematic study of 
only the most important words that seem to play a decisive role in 
characterizing the dominant note 1 that runs through, permeates and 
dominates the whole Qur’anic thought. Only the important words of 
this kind, z.e, the key-words, determine the character of the whole 

The Basic Structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung 75 

system. But in order to be able to measure the importance of the 
words and distinguish what is relatively more important from what 
is relatively unimportant in this particular sense, we must have 
beforehand a general schematic picture of the whole thing. Otherwise, 
we would simply end by losing ourselves in the minutiae. 

For the purpose of isolating the fundamental conceptual frame- 
work of the Qur’an as a whole, the first requirement is that we 
should try to read the Book without any preconception. We must, in 
other words, try not to read into it thoughts that have been developed 
and elaborated by the Muslim thinkers of the post-Qur’anic ages in 
their effort to understand and interpret their Sacred Book each accor- 
ding to his particular position. We must try to grasp the structure of 
the Qur’anic world conception in its original form, that is, as it, was 
read and understood by the Prophet’s contemporaries and his imme- 
diate followers. Strictly speaking, this must always remain an unattai- 
nable ideal, and yet at least we should do our best to approach this 
ideal even a step nearer. 

Now in reading the Qur’an for this purpose, and as a seman- 
ticist, the first and overwhelming impression I get is that this is a 
large multi-strata system standing on a number of basic conceptual 
oppositions, each one of which constitutes a specific semantic field. 
Speaking in terms less semantical, I would say that I get the impre- 
ssion that here I am in a world over which reigns an intense atmos- 
phere of spiritual strain and tension. What is before our eyes is surely 
not a plain, objective description of what has happened, what is 
happening and what will happen. This is not a world of calm 
peaceful description. 

On the contrary, we feel that there is some intense spiritual 
drama going on. And a ‘drama’ always occurs only where there is a 
dynamic opposition between the principal actors. This is a compli- 
cated system of oppositions that are formed, each one of them, by 
two poles that stand facing each other. The pole is indicated, seman- 
tically, by what we have called a ‘focus-word’. In short, from the 
semantical point of view, the Qur’anic Weltanschauung is capable to 
be represented as a system built on the principle of conceptual 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

II. God and Man 

The first and most important ‘opposition’ in this sense is constituted 
by the fundamental relation between God and man, Allah and insan. 
Needles to say, Allah, according to the Qur’an, is not only the 
supreme but also the Only Being worthy to be called ‘being’ in the 
full sense of the word — Reality with a capital letter — to which 
nothing in the whole world can be opposed. Ontologically, the 
Qur’anic world is most evidently theocentric, as I have said more 
than once. God stands in the very centre of the world of being, and 
all other things, human or non-human, are His creatures and are as 
such infinitely inferior to Him in the hierarchy of being. There can 
be, in this sense, nothing that would stand opposed to Him. And this 
is precisely what was meant when it was said above that, seman- 
tically, Allah is the highest focus-word in the vocabulary of the 
Qur’an, presiding over all the semantic fields and, consequently, the 
entire system. 

There is, however, a certain respect in which we might feel 
ourselves justified in putting the concept of ‘man’ (insan) at the 
opposite pole from God. For among all these created things ‘man’ is 
the one which is attached so great an importance in the Qur’an that 
it attracts at least the same amount of our attention as God. Man, his 
nature, conduct, psychology, duties and destiny are, in fact as much 
the central preoccupation of the Qur’anic thought as the problem of 
God Himself. What God is, says and does, becomes a problem 
chiefly, if not exclusively, in connection with the problem with how 
man reacts to it. The Qur’anic thought as a whole is concerned with 
the problem of the salvation of human beings. If it were not for this 
problem, the Book would not have been “sent down”, as the Qur’an 
itself explicitly and repeatedly emphasizes. And in this particular 
sense, the concept of man is important to such a degree that it forms 
the second major pole standing face to face with the principal pole, 
that is, the concept of Allah. 

And this basic confrontation of the two major poles with each 
other constitutes the most important conceptual opposition in the 
Qur’an that, together with the others, goes to create that intense 
dynamic and dramatic atmosphere of spiritual tension which, as I 
have just said, characterizes the Qur’anic Weltanschauung. 

Thus, the world of the Qur’an mdy be visualized as a circle with 

The Basic Structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung 77 

two principal points of reference upon it, opposed to each other, one 
from above, the other from below (Diagram). And this circle would 
symbolize the world of Being as the main stage on which all human 
dramas are enacted. 

Jahiliyyah did not know such a circle. The world-view of Jahiliyyah 
was homocentric. There, man was the sole conceptual pole to which 
no other basic pole stood in fundamental opposition. Man, his destiny 
on earth, his position in the tribe to which he belonged, the relation 
of his tribe to other tribes, his virtues which were essentially tribal in 
nature, these were the major problems of a JahilT man. Of course he 
recognized the existence of unseen powers superior to himself in the 
scale of being, ranging from Allah to Jinn, but these occupied, after 
all, a narrow, limited section of the world of his concern; they were 
not so important as to constitute an independent major conceptual 
principle which would divide this world with ‘man’ into two halves. 
There was, consequently, no atmosphere of spiritual tension running 
through the whole world of being as a JahilT man conceived it. 

Now in the new world of Islam, the dramatic and spiritual 
tension to which I have just referred is caused, semantically speaking, 
by a particular relation between the two major conceptual poles, i.e., 
God and man. This relation is neither simple nor unilateral; it is a 
multiple and bilateral, that is, reciprocal relationship. 

This complex relationship may conceptually be analyzed in 
terms of four major kinds of relation between God and man. In other 
words, the Qur’anic ‘divina commedia ’ is enacted on the main stage 
to which reference has just been made in the form of four different 
types of relation between Alldh and insan. 

I. Ontological relation: between God as the ultimate source of 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

human existence and man as the representative of the world of 
being which owes its very existence to God. In more theological 
terms, the Creator-creature relation between God and man. 

II. Communicative relation : here, God and man are brought into 
close correlation with each other — God, of course, taking the 
initiative — through mutual communication. 

Two different ways of communication are to be distinguished: (1) 
verbal type and (2) non-verbal type. The verbal type of commu- 
nication from above to below is Revelation ( wahy ) in the narrow and 
technical sense, while from below to above, it takes the form of 
‘prayer’ ( du‘a ’). 

The non-verbal type of communication from above to below is 
the Divine act of the sending down ( tanzil) of the ‘signs’ ( ayat ). 
From below to above, the communication takes the form of ritual 
worship (salat), or more generally, cult practices. 

III. Lord-servant relation : this relation involves, on the part of 
God, as the Lord (rabb), all concepts relating to His majesty, 
sovereignty, absolute power, on the part of man as His ‘servant’ 

( ‘abd) a whole set of concepts humbleness, modesty, absolute 
obedience, and other properties that demanded of a servant. This 
human part of the relation has a negative correlative that consists 
of the concepts implying haughtiness, arrogance, self-sufficiency 
and other similar qualities that are comprised in, and asscoiated 
with the word Jahiliyyah. 

IV. Ethical relation : this is based on the most basic contrast 
between two different aspects that are distinguishable in the very 
concept of God, God of infinite goodness, mercy, forgiveness 
and benevolence on one hand, and on the other, God of wrath, 
and severe, strict and unrelenting justice. Correspondingly, there 
occurs, on the human side, the basic contrast between 
‘thankfulness’ (shukr) on the one hand, and the ‘god-fearing’, 
attitude (taqwa), on the other. As we have seen above, shukr, 
and taqwa together form one category and this last makes a 
sharp contrast with kufr both in the sense of ‘unthankfulness’ 
and in that of ‘disbelief. 2 

The Basic Structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung 79 

III. The Muslim Community 

These basic relations once established between God and man, they 
give birth, midst of mankind at large, to a particular group of men 
who acknowledge them and choose the positive side of the matter as 
the basis of their outlook on life and existence. What I call here 
‘positive’ response consists as regards the first ontological relation, 
in their acknowledging God as their Creator, i.e.. One who has 
conferred upon man as an extraordinary favour his very existence and 
being, and, having given him life, takes care of his destiny. In regard 
to the second relation, that of communication, it consists in man’s 
responding willingly and wholeheartedly to the divine call and 
following its guidance to the way of salvation. In regard to the third 
Lord-servant relation, the positive response means that man throws 
away from himself all the remants of his former Jahiliyyah and 
behaves to God, his Master, as truly befits a slave. Lastly, in regard 

I to the ethical relation, it means that he shows ‘thankfulness’ to God’s 

favors and — which is in reality nothing but the reverse side of the 
same thing — to fear seriously the divine chastisement. 

These people form in the nature of the case a compact group, a 
religious community. This is the concept of ‘community’ (ummah), 
or to be exact, ummah muslimah which originally meant a 
“community (of people who have) surrendered (themselves to God)” 3 
but ended by acquiring the meaning of the “Muslim community” — to 
which the Prophet in the Hadith constantly refers by calling it 
ummati (“my community”). 

The importance of this concept cannot be too much emphasized. 
Its birth marked really a decisive moment in the history of Islam. 4 
Hitherto in Arabia, the principle of social and political organization 
had been of an essentially tribal nature. The point needs no laboring 
because it has been studied so much by so many different authors. In 
short, blood-kinship had been the most decisive element in the JahilT 
Arab conception of social unity. Against this time-honored concep- 
tion, the Qur’an developed a new idea of social unity based no longer 
on kinship, but on a common religious belief. 

The establishment of this new concept of ‘religious community’ 
caused naturally a great disturbance in the structure of the semantic 
licld of ‘society’. First of all, it created a sharp conflict between the 
concept of the Islamic ummah and that of those who definitely and 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

openly refused to come into this community, i.e., kuffar, the Kafirs, 
the latter category including within it as a subdivision the smaller 
category of mundfiqun (hypocrites), who pretended outwardly to 
belong in the Muslim community, but, in reality, remained in the 
other camp. 5 

But there was a far more delicate problem there. The concept of 
ummah once established in Islam, the Muslims found that there were 
around them all other ‘religious communities’ which had already 
been long existent when Islam arose, like Jews, Christians, Sabians, 
and Zoroastrians. The Qur’an calls these as a whole “the People of 
Scripture” (ahl al-kitab), meaning those who possess a Scripture, 
those nations to whom, in each case, a Prophet has been sent, who 
has brought them a book of Revelation. 

Looking back from this standpoint, the Qur’an divides the whole 
mankind before the advent of Islam into two major categories: (1) the 
People of Scripture and (2) those to whom the Book has not been 
given, people with no Scripture ( ummiyyun ). And these two categ- 
ories are sharply opposed to each other. The opposition is clearly 
mentioned in several verses; for example: 


“And say to both those to whom the Book has been given and the 
ummiyun...” ( Ali ‘Imran, 3:19 [20]), the context itself makes it clear 
that, in this verse, “those to whom the Book has been given” refers 
to the Jews and the Christians, while by ummiyun the idolatrous 
Arabs are meant. 

It is important to notice that the pagan Arabs, before the advent 
of Islam are called here, as in many other places, ummiyyun (“non- 
Scripture people”). Properly speaking, they are not yet Kafirs ( kuffar 
or kafirun), because as yet they have never been admonished to open 
their eyes to the marvelous work of God. Real Kafirs are those who 
consciously show the most determined opposition to the Divine 
scheme, after the Revelation has made the truth clear to them. The 
Prophet himself was a pagan, an erring man 6 ( dal l ), before he began 
to receive Revelation. 

Be this as it may, the fact that in the Qur’anic thought the 
concept of ummiyyun is most closely related with (1) that of kitdh 
(the Book) that is, in short, Revelation— 'and (2) that of rasiil (the 


The Basic Structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung 81 

Messenger) who is charged with the task of transmitting the Book to 
his people, and (3) the idea that the people before Revelation are in 
the state of dalal (erring), is shown by the following verse: 

He it is who has sent among the ummiyyun a Messenger (rasul) 
from among them , so that he might recite His revelations to 
them, purify them, and teach them the Book (kitdb) and the 
Wisdom, while heretofore they were clearly in error (dalal). 

All this would seem to imply an extremely important thing, 
namely, that, according to the Qur’an, the Arabs, who had been one 
of the ummf peoples, were raised by the ‘Arabic’ Revelation for the 
first time in their history to the rank of a People of Scripture. The 
concept of Islamic ummah is based on this thought. But the idea of 
the People of Scripture comprises many communities besides that of 
the Muslims, that are parallel to the latter, particularly the Jewish and 
Christian communities. And this situation makes it incumbent upon 
the youngest ummah to define its own position among the whole 
People of Scripture. Thus the idea is advanced that the Muslims are 
now “the best ummah ever produced for mankind” 7 and that God has 
made them “a middle ummah” , 8 meaning thereby probably an ummah 
that occupies the central position in the whole, away from all the 
extremes that are represented by other communities within the People 
of Scripture. 

As a matter of fact, the People of Scripture in pre-Islamic times, 
in the Qur’anic view, had conspicuously degenerated. Originally they 
were men of the true religion, who, following their prophets, believed 
in God and His words. By the time Islam arose, however, they had 
consciously falsified the truth that had been revealed to them by God, 
adopting some parts of it that pleased them, and rejecting or concea- 
ling others. In short, the original pure religion, which the Qur’an calls 
the “HanTfitic religion” symbolized by Abraham, the monotheist, 
hamf had been corrupted into a kind of disbelief. Islam, according 
to what the Qur’an itself declares, was a movement for cleaning up 
these religious scandals with a view to reconstructing the true mono- 
theism in its pure original form. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Thus we see that the relation of the Islamic ummah with the 
People of Scripture {ahl al-kitab) is far from being a simple and 
straightforward one. On the one hand, the Islamic ummah stands 
closely affiliated with ahl al-kitab the Jews and Christians in 
particular, but, on the other, they are opposed to each other with 
bitter enmity between them. And on the whole, this enmity becomes 
more and more conspicuous in course of time, and this process is 
clearly reflected in the history of the Qur’anic thought. In this sense, 
the conceptual opposition of the Islamic ummah and other People of 
Scripture is no less sharp than that of the Islamic ummah and the 
idolatrous Kafirs. The diagram is intended to show the general 
situation of mankind, in the Qur’anic world-view, that resulted from 
the establishment of the Islamic ummah, which, again, was a result 
of the establishment of the four basic relations between God and the 
Arabs through Muhammad the Prophet. It is to be remarked that here 
again the whole system is clearly based on the principle of multiple 
conceputal opposition. 

A= People of Scripture 
B = Muslims 
C = Hypocrites 
D = Kafirs 

In the above diagram, the sector marked B symbolizes the 
Islamic ummah. It is worth noticing that the inner structure of this 
ummah as a social organization based on a new conception of society 
became soon a matter of grave concern to the believers who lived 
within it. This of course was a phenomenon peculiar to the period 
that followed the Hijrah, i.e. the Madman period, when the ummah 
first came into being. As everybody knows, the Islamic community, 
once established in MadTnah, grew larger at an astonishing speed and 
became more and more firmly consolidated in Arabia. This stale of 
affairs is reflected in the Qur’an itself, and the problem of t lie inner 
slruclure ol'lhe Muslim community is dealt with in great detail in the 

The Basic Structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung 83 

Surahs revealed in MadTnah in terms of the concepts of social system. 

These concepts concern the laws and regulations governing the 
various human relations within the Islamic community. Unlike most 
of the Qur’anic key-terms that have to do with relations between God 
and man, the key-terms of this field express primarily relations 
between man and man in social life in this world. They constitute a 
large semantic field of social system. These concepts may be conve- 
niently classified into seven sub-fields: (1) marital relations compri- 
sing concepts that relate to marriage, divorce, adultery and forni- 
cation; (2) parents-children relations, comprising the duties of parents 
towards children, and the duties of children towards their parents, and 
regulations concerning adoption; (3) laws of inheritance; (4) criminal 
laws concerning particularly murder, theft, and retaliation; (5) 
commercial relations comprising concepts of contract, debt, usury, 
bribery, and justice in commercial dealings; (6) laws concerning 
charity, i.e., alms, legal and voluntary; (7) laws concerning slaves. 

As is obvious, this vast network of words signifying various 
human relations within the closed community of Islam is destined to 
develop later into a grand-scale system of Islamic jurisprudence. And 
we could perhaps find the best place for discussing the key-concepts 
of this field when we come down, from the Qur’anic stage to the 
semantics of the vocabulary of Islamic Law, because there in the 
major systems of Law we find all of these concepts minutely 
analyzed by the Muslim thinkers themselves in a methodological way 
which is not so far removed from our semantical analysis. 10 

IV. The Unseen and the Visible 

The Qur’anic view divides the present 
world in which man lives into two halves: 
“the Domain of the Unseen” (‘ alam al- 
ghayb ) and “the Domain of the Visible” 
("alam al-shahadah). This is the second 
major conceptual opposition discernible in 
the world-view of the Qur’an. And these 
arc the two basic forms of the whole 
world of being, which is nothing but the 
muin stage on which the aforesaid divina 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

commedia is enacted. 

Of these two, only the visible part is at man’s disposal, while 
God reigns over both of them, as we are told, for example, in Sarah 

Say: O Allah! Thou creator of the heavens and the earth! Thou 
who biowest the Unseen (al-ghayb) and the Visible (al- 

Al-Zumar, 39:47 [46] 

It is to be remarked that this distinction itself is meaningful only 
in reference to the basic epistemological capacity of the human mind. 
It is, in other words, a distinction made purely from the human point 
of view, for, from the standpoint of God, there can be no ghayb at 
all. He is omniscient, as the Qur’an declares so categorically and so 
repeatedly. “Allah encompasses everything in knowledge”. 11 Thus, to 
take a typical example regarding the knowledge of the Hour (al- 
so 1 ah ), 12 i.e., the knowledge as to when exactly the Day of Judgment 
would come, which was one of the paramount problems of the day 
for both the Muslims and the Kafirs, they were told that Allah alone 
knew ‘when’, and no one else in the world, not even the Prophet 

itpL»Jt jJ — ) j-b L* j i<dil -UP I g * 1 p ( J — * ipl—Jl fp 

Men will ask thee about the Hour. Answer: “The knowledge of 
it is with Allah What can make thee know? It may be that the 
Hour is nigh. 

Al-Ahzab, 33:63 

When asked such a grave question concerning the ghayb, the 
Prophet should answer only in the following way: 

»JlP U-L*l ft 0 ^ U. -ifi' ^ 


The Basic Structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung 85 

“I do not know whether that which you are promised is nigh, 01 
whether my Lord will appoint a longer term for it. The K no wet 
oj the ghayb He is, and to none does He disclose His ghayb! " 

Al-Jinn, 72:26 [26-26] 

All this because man is so made to live in the world of the 
Visible (shahadah) alone. His knowledge does not go beyond the 
limit of his natural domain. 

The words themselves, ghayb and shahadah in the sense of “the 
invisible” and “the visible” respectively, were not in any way 
unknown to the pre-Islamic Arabs. Jahiliyyah knew and used them. 
It is remarkable that even the expression ‘alam al-ghayb occurs in a 
poem of a famous pre-Islamic poet ‘Antarah b. Shaddad, for 
example, in the sense of the “unknown future”: 13 

(*Jtp litu* LaJ -IP J jjjj L«_> 

Do not worry about what will be measured out to you tomorrow, for 
nobody has ever brought us any news from the world of ghayb. 

But more generally, the word in JahilT literature means things 
that bit beyond the power of human perception in the most material 
sense. The following verse by a poet 14 of the Hudhayl tribe describes 
a wild bull chased by a hunter, whose presence the former perceives 
by the ear, but not by the eye. 

4 j jb jb j j^jU) 4 j- 

He tries to discern with his eyes what is hidden in the invisible (i.e. in 
a place which he is unable to see through), compressing tight his 
eyelids, and his eyesight confirms what his ears have heard. 

The same word is often used in the sense of “what is hidden in 
the heart”, “what is kept secret in the heart”. For example, al- 
Hutay’ah says: 15 

■ . . ^ 1 ^ 1 - - P f \ 1 

“When at lust the real sentiment which had been kept secret in 
your heart became disclosed to me...”, meaning thereby the hidden 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

hatred towards him. 

But there seems to be no trace in pre-Islamic heathenism of the 
word’s having been used in a religious sense. The same is true of its 
positive counterpart, shahadah , the basic meaning of which is “to be 
present in one’s own person at an event, and be witnessing what 
actually happens”. 16 

V. The Present World and the Hereafter 

From an entirely different point of view, this world as man actually 
experiences it and lives in it is, as a whole, called al-dunya , lit. The 
Lower’ or ‘the Nearer’ world. The Qur’an mostly uses the phrase al- 
hayat al-dunya (‘the lower life’) in place of the simple word al- 
dunya . The denotatum of this word in the Qur’an is the same world 
of being and existence which we have symbolized above by a circle 
with ‘God’ and ‘man’ as two points of reference. In other terms, it 
denotes the same main stage of the divina commedia on which God 
and man come into contact with each other in the four major types 
of relation as distinguished above. Only, the angle from which it is 
viewed is now quite different from the preceding one. 

To understand this point it will be enough to notice that the 
word al-dunya belongs to a particular category of words, which we 
might call ‘correlation’ words, that is, those words that stand for 
correlated concepts, like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, 
etc. : each member of the pair presupposes the other semantically and 
stands on the very basis of this correlation. A man can be a 
‘husband’ only in reference to ‘wife’. The concept of ‘husband’, in 
other words, implicitly contains that of ‘wife’, and vice versa. In just 
the same way, the concept of al-dunya presupposes the concept of the 
‘world to come’, f.e, the ‘Hereafter’ {al-dkhirah), and stands in 
contrast to it. And the Qur’an is very conscious of this correlation 
whenever it uses either of the two words, not to speak of those 
frequent cases where both are mentioned together in the same breath, 
as, for example, in the following verse: 

-U ji dilj LjjJl ^ j jju 

You desire the ephemeral goods of the present world (at dunyd). 

The Basic Structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung 87 

while God desires (for you) the Hereafter (al-dkhirah). 

Al-Anfdl , 8:68 [67] 

The word al-dunya occurs frequently, in pre-Islamic literature. 
And this very fact would seem to suggest that the correlate concept 
of akhirah was also known to the pre-Islamic Arabs. The famous 
authority on pre-Islamic poetry al-Asma‘T (740-828) is often quoted 
as saying: “the major subject of ‘Antarah was harb (war), that of 
‘Umar b. Abl RabTah was shabab (youth, always associated with 
love and the pursuit of sensual pleasures), while the main subject of 
Ummayyah b. Abl al-Salt was al-dkhirah (the Hereafter).” 

The fact that here the ‘Hereafter’ is put in close connection with 
Umayyah b. Abl al-Salt 17 would suggest that this concept, and 
consequently that of al-dunya , too, were most probably propagated 
in pre-Islamic Arabia first by Judaism and Christianity. To look on 
the present world as something ‘lower’ is possible only where there 
is firmly established the idea of the Other World being far more 
valuable and important than the present world. Such a view is surely 
not of the pure Arabian paganism, whose fundamental outlook on 
human existence may be aptly described as ‘pessimistic hedonism’ 
stemming from the deep-seated conviction that there can be 
absolutely nothing after death. This typically Jdhilf view of life we 
find well epitomized in a verse like this: 18 

j* 3 ) h-ji Jl1*j 

Let us forget reproachful words of the people with cups abrim, and cut 

away the ills of the Day with jest and joy. 

It is evident that the disparaging view of the present world, that 
is, to look on Dunya as literally dunyd (lower), belongs properly to 
a spiritual religion. That such a view of Dunyd was very common in 
the Christian circles in and around Arabia in ancient times may be 
easily seen by even a cursory inspection of the history of Christian 
literature in Arabic. Here I will give a typical example. 

The famous princess of the Christian Court of al-HTrah, Hurqah, 
daughter of the last king of this dynasty al-Nu‘m5n b. al-Mundhir, 
und noted lor her excellent personality as well as for her poetic 
talent, is related to have recited a poem which begins with the 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

following two lines in the presence of the Muslim general Sa‘d b. 
AbT Waqqas, when he defeated the Persians at al-Qadisiyyah: 19 

• Ut 

ilo 4j * 

> ^jLaj 


The meaning of the verses is somewhat like this: 

We have been ruling the people with an absolute authority in our 
hands, when, all of a sudden we find ourselves changed into their 
subjects who must serve them. Alas, how detestable is the Dunya in 
which no happiness lasts for long! The Dunya tosses us about in its 
shifts and changes, itself being in perpetual ebb and flow. 

However this may be, the word al-dunya itself seems to have 
been widely used among the pre-Islamic Arabs even outside the 
monotheistic circles, although it is extremely doubtful whether any 
religious value was attached to the concept. In the following verse, 
for instance, the poet 20 recognizes in the Dunya something inspiring 
confidence, worthy to be relied upon, and therefore, positively 

JST Jjr 

Supply yourself for your journey (viz. of life) with the goods of the 
Dunya , for, surely, they are, whatever happens, the best provision for 
a man preparing for a journey. 

There may be in this verse some vague consciousness of the 
basic correlation between the Dunya and the Other World still 
lingering on, but in the next one by ‘Antarah there is no longer any 
trace of such consciousness discernible: 21 

.uJti dill ^ ’o' ^ 

From the excess of passionate love, I lower myself to (my beloved) 
‘Ablah (i.e. I content myself with being a “slave” of ‘Ablah), and of 
all things of the Dunya I make her the sole concern of mine. 

The Basic Structure of the Qur ’anic Weltanschauung 89 

As we have seen above, the Qur’an re-establishes this conceptual 
correlation in its original form, and puts afresh these two concepts 
into direct opposition to each other. And this is the third of the major 
conceptual oppositions which, as I said, contribute towards creating 
the intense atmosphere of spiritual tension that characterizes the 
Weltanschauung of the Qur’an. 

As regards the conceptual structure of al-dkhirah itself, we 
should remark that it is also based on the principle of dichotomy, i.e., 
here again we see a basic opposition of two major concepts: the 
Garden ( al-jannah , pi. alfanndt) and the Hell Fire ( al-jahannam ). 
And this determines the general structure of this field. The conception 
of the Hereafter in this form does not, in the nature of the case, 
appear very often in pre-Islamic poetry, but it would be too rash to 
say that it was completely unknown. As a matter of fact, in view of 
the cultural situation of Arabia in late Jahiliyyah we should rather 
expect to meet with such a conception among the Arabs. There is one 
interesting example in ‘Antarah’s Diwdn. Describing his love-affair 
with 'Ablah, the poet says: 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

The bliss of being united with you is a heavenly garden (jannat) 
beautifully adorned, while the fire of being separated from you bums 
out everything, leaving nothing behind . 22 

It is interesting to note that the poet here compares the unbear- 
able torment of separation to the scorching Fire of Hell that bums to 
ashes everything that is thrown into it. Although he does not actually 
use the word jahannam, ‘Hell’ in this verse, the image is palpably 
there. And this, if the verse is genuine, would be indicative of a 
strong influence on the pre-Islamic world-view of the Judeo-Christian 
religious imagery. Besides, such indications are far from being rare 
in pre-Islamic literature. 

In any case, the word itself jahannam occurs in the DTwan of the 
same poet. This is rather an exceptional case. 

a ^ ^ a , s * o 

j *jij ^1 -Lj 4 

' ' ^ \ * ' - 

The taste of the water of life in abjection is like Jahannam, while even 
Jahannam, if only one lives there in glory and power, is an abode 
sweet and delightful . 23 

There is a point which is extremely important as regards the 
position of the concepts of jannah and jahannam. This conceptual 
pair is not there in the Qur’anic image of the Hereafter simply as 
something lying far away from this present world. On the contrary, 
it is most directly and immediately connected the human life on this 
earth, in this very present world. The two concepts are not only 
directly connected with that of al-dunya\ the whole system is 
arranged in such a way that they work directly upon the life of the 
Dunya and control it in terms of the eternal ‘Reward’ and 
‘Punishment’. The presence of jannah and jahannam must make 
itself felt in the form of the moral conscience whenever a man does 
something, whenever a man acts in this world. It is the very source 
of the moral values. Man, as long as he lives as a member of the 
Muslim community, is morally demanded to choose always certain 
ways of acting that are connected with jannah, and to avoid those 
that arc connected with jahannam. This is the very simple and very 
vigorous principle of moral conduct in this new community. 

The Basic Structure of the Qur ’anic Weltanschauung 9 1 

So here again we meet with that phenomenon of the re- 
evaluation and reassessment of old concepts in Islam. The concepts 
themselves of jannah and jahannam might very well have been 
known to the JahilT Arabs, but the position they occupied in the 
JahilT conceptual system was quite peripheral, so peripheral that they 
were not even key-terms. In the Qur’an, they are given an entirely 
different place in an entirely different semantic field. Now they are 
key-terms of central importance; they represent in clear imagery the 
good and the bad, and the right and the wrong on this earth as God 
Himself defines them. 

VI. Eschatological Concepts 

Between the Dunya and the Hereafter the Qur’an puts something that 
acts as a connecting link, something representing the transition stage 
between the two worlds (The sector E in the diagram). It is a 
particular group of concepts that we may roughly classify as 
eschatological concepts: The Last Day, the Day of Judgment, 
Resurrection, Reckoning and similar ones. 

Of all the concepts that fall under' this category, the most 
controversial among the Makkans in the first days of Islam was that 
of the resurrection of the dead. Many of them responded with sheer 
denial and scorn to the Qur’anic message of the resurrection 
connected with the concept of the Judgment of the Last Day. “Who 
shall quicken the bones when they have rotted off?” 24 — this brief 
sentence summarizes their attitude toward this conception. For them 
it was sheer nonsense that they would come to life again in a bodily 
form long after they had become decayed bones. Often they 
dismissed the teachings as “old fables” 25 and “nightmare illusions”; 26 
if such a thing did happen, they said, it would be “nothing but a 
magic manifest”. 27 

This attitude toward the concept of bodily resurrection has 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

The Basic Structure of the Qur ante Weltanschauung 93 

evidently its root and source in the more general and more 
fundamental world-view of those people to which the Qur’an makes 
a clear reference in an oft-quoted passage which runs: 

USvLgj j iJjJl UjU>- 1 < 

They say : there is nothing but this present life of ours; we die 
and we live , and it is only Time that destroys us. 

Al-Jdthiyah, 45:23 [24] 

Such was, indeed, the typical, representative attitude of the 
Makkans on the problem of resurrection raised by the Qur’an in an 
uncompromising way. At bottom there is a deep tone of nihilism 
here; nihilism coming from the keenest consciousness that there can 
be nothing beyond the grave. The same nihilism which, as we have 
seen, drove the Arabs of the desert to hedonism, manifested itself 
with the Makkans, under the form of an intense and exclusive 
concentration on the prosperity in this world. They were, in short, 
clever able merchants, worldly-minded businessmen who had no wish 
at all to learn about the future life and the Last Day, because in their 
eyes there could be no such things. The negative attitude of the 
Makkans toward the Qur’anic concept of resurrection can easily be 
understood in terms of this businessman mentality. It was the direct 
outgrowth of the self-confidence — istighnd \ lit. “the thinking of one’s 
self independent” as the Qur’an calls it- — of the prospering merchants. 

However, it would be dangerous to generalize it and say that the 
concept of resurrection was unknown in Jdhiliyyah . There are certain 
undeniable traces in pre-Islamic poetry of a belief in the Hereafter 
associated with the idea of the Day of Reckoning beyond the grave. 
Some of them may quite reasonably be traced back to a Christian or 
Jewish source. The very famous verses (vv. 27-28) in the Mu ‘allaqah 
of Zuhayr b. AbT Sulma, in which there is an explicit reference to the 
Heavenly Record ( kitab ) which registers all evil actions of men for 
the Day of Reckoning (yawm al-hisdb ) furnish an outstanding 

I ^ - F + 1 S' ^ ^ ^ j) J ^ ^ 

Ail ' U* Ail 1 

The verses mean literary: 

Never try to hide from Allah what is within your breast (i.e. whatever 
evil thoughts you nourish secretly) so that it might not be disclosed, for 
whatever is concealed from God, He knows. It (i.e. the Divine 
punishment) may be deferred and (your evil) set down in the Book and 
kept for the Day of Reckoning, or it may be accelerated (i.e. be 
inflicted already in the present world) and vengeance taken; (in any 
case, you will never be able to escape Divine punishment for any 
wrong you have done). 

A generation or two ago, it was fashionable among the 
Orientalists to explain away these and other similar verses in pre- 
lslamic poetry — and the examples are far more numerous than one 
might expect — as due to interpolation and forgery by later Muslim 
philologists. We have learnt to be much more cautious this matter. 
Instead of emphasizing the occurrence of ideas of this kind in 
Jdhiliyyah as a strong argument against the authenticity of its 
literature, we are today inclined to take it rather as a confirmation of 
the view that the intellectual atmosphere of Arabia in late Jdhiliyyah 
was not at all purely pagan, but was in general permeated by 
monotheistic ideas, for, as we shall see in the next chapter, such ideas 
are clearly presupposed by the Qur’an itself in its refutation of the 
Kafirs ’ view on Allah. 

As regards Zuhayr’s verses just quoted, which, by the way, Ibn 
Qutaybah in his Book on Poetry and Poets considers an indication 
that this poet believed in the Resurrection, and which modem 
scholars have tended to explain away as forgery, I think the truth of 
the matter becomes clear when we reflect a little on the general 
situation in which Zuhayr composed this poem. 

The tribes to whom Zuhayr addressed these words were, as 
Charles Lyall 28 pointed out long ago, living in the midst of people 
who were well familiar with Christian and Jewish religious ideas. To 
the west and north were Yathrib, Khaybar and Tayma’, all flourishing 
Jewish centers, to the north the tribe of Kalb, almost entirely 
Christian, and Tayyi’ where Christianity was spreading steadily. In 
such a cultural situation there is nothing strange about the fact that 
some Biblical ideas appear as important concepts in Zuhayr’s poems. 

This, of course, should not be taken to mean that the Arabs 
before the advent of Islam were, in general and as a whole, already 
quite familiar with the major religious concepts of Judco-Christian 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

origin. Even those of the Judeo-Christian concepts that were 
relatively well-known among the pagan Arabs not evidently form the 
genuine JahilT Weltanschauung. The notion of Resurrection enter- 
tained by the ordinary Arabs of the desert were also presumably a far 
vaguer and weaker one than that expressed by Zuhayr in the lines we 
have examined. And yet the presence itself of notions of this kind 
among them is also difficult to deny. The evidence is not far to seek. 

All readers of the Qur’an know that in this Book the idea of the 
resurrection of the dead body is expressed usually by words like 
ba 'th (verb ba ‘ atha ) and nashr (verb anshara). In the Qur’an, we 
meet with the Kafirs saying: 

'■“j *SlJ If* jl I jv'jfr 

“ There is only our present life, and we shall never be raised 
from (mab ‘uthlna from ba ‘atha)”. 

Al-An‘am, 6:29 

Gj \zs’y f b]h> 

“ There is nothing but our first death; we shall never be raised 
from (munsharina from anshara)”. 

Al-Dukhan, 44:34 [35] 

This negation itself of ba ‘th and nashr would be unthinkable 
without supposing that the Kafirs did possess from the beginning the 
concepts of ba ‘th and nashr understood in the sense of the 
resurrection of the dead. Generally speaking, you can only negate a 
word when you know what it means. This view is confirmed by a 
similar usage of these words by pre-Islamic Arabs. For example, al- 
Shaddakh b. Ya‘mar, a Jahili poet, says: 29 

\ Oj gr-j 

The poet is here trying to encourage his tribesmen who are 
flinching from attacking their powerful enemy, saying that “our 
enemies are also ordinary like you, who have hair on their heads, and 
who will never be revived (nashr) once they arc killed”. The 
expression “they will never be revived” would be completely 

The Basic Structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung 95 

pointless and meaningless if the concept of nashr (resurrection) were 

The word hashr is more characteristic, because it means 
precisely resurrection on the Day of Judgement. ‘Antarah talks 
proudly of his glorious fame as a warrior which will last till the time 
of General Assembly. 10 And Salmah al-Ju‘fi, a Mukhadram poet, 
bewailing the death of his brother says: 31 

Clf /K* 'Ojf* JlS* tS O' J 

I used to suffer something like death from even the separation of one 
day; can I endure a long separation which comes to an end only by 
meeting again on the day of resurrection (hashr)? 

We may also point out in this connection a very interesting 
heathen custom, baliyyah as something indicative of the existence in 
Jdhiliyyah of a belief in resurrection. In the days of Arabian 
paganism, when a man died, his riding camel was tied up at his 
grave, her eyes plucked out, her fore-shank bound to the upper arm, 
and she was left there without food and water till she died. The 
custom referred to very often in Arabic literature. An example will 
suffice here. 32 

Now who will help this miserable fellow, husband of a starving 
woman, (lean) as a baliyyah- camel, and clad in rags? 

According to the explanation given by the Arab authorities of the 
Abbasid period, the pre-Islamic Arabs kept up this old custom 
because they believed that the dead man would ride upon his camel 
thus starved to death by the grave of her master and come to the 
place of Gathering (mahshar) on the Resurrection Day. 

Without giving full credit to this kind of explanation, we may be 
fairly confident in concluding from what we have seen that the pre- 
Islamic Arabs had at least a vague notion of Resurrection and the 
Judgment Day. Only, as in the case of all other major religious 
concepts, it was not given a definite place in a definite system of 
concepts. This und similar concepts were simply there, scattered 
about here and there, with no coherent internal connection between 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

The Basic Structure of the Qur ’anic Weltanschauung 97 

them. This means that although there were eschatological concepts in 
Jahiliyyah, there was no clearly defined and solidly established 
semantic field of eschatology as a middle field between the Dunya 
and the Hereafter. In any society, there are a number of stray 
concepts having no definite semantic field to belong in. Concepts of 
this sort, lacking support from any strong coherent systems of 
concepts, are weak and cannot in any way play a decisive role in the 
culture. This is the most fundamental difference between the pre- 
Islamic concepts of eschatology and the Qur’anic ones. 

By way of conclusion I would give here in a simple 
diagrammatic form the general structure of the Qur’anic 
Weltanschauung, to which we have been led by this preliminary 
analysis. This furnishes us with a general framework in which every 
Qur’anic key-concept will be given a proper place. In the following 
chapter only the semantical structure of the first — but patently the 
most important — part of this whole system will be dealt with. In 
other words, we shall be engaged in examining in detail the structure 
of the Dunya in terms of the fourfold relation between God and man, 
which we mentioned at the beginning of the present chapter. 


1 * 

2 . 




6 . 

8 . 

I quite agree with Dr. Baud Rahbar when he says (op. cit., p. 721) that 
“what is expected of a great book of revelation is not absolute logical 
consistency, but consistency of the dominance of an idea. Prophets do 
not offer philosophy. They offer wisdom of a type, a wisdom which 
has a dominant note”. The search after the dominant note in this sense 
is our task. Only, this can be done by many different ways and 
methods, and semantics is one of them. 

As regards these four basic forms of God-man relation, we have to be 
content with this synopsis at this stage. We leave the problem here 
without any further explanation, for it will form our main topic all 
through the remaining chapters. As to the other aspects of the general 
Qur’anic world-view, that we are going to mention in the present 
chapter, some details will be given in view of the fact that they will 
not be dealt with properly in this book. 

Our Lord , make us submissive to Thee, and of our seed a community 
submissive Thee! (It is Abraham who addresses these words to God) 
(Al-Baqarah, 2:122 [128]) 

The relevance of this concept is in no way restricted to the period we 
are dealing witht in this book; it extends into all comers of Islamic 
history, as Sir Hamliton A. R. Gibb writes: “The key word for 
everything that has to do with Islamic culture is Umma Community. It 
is in the historical development of this concept and its modalities that 
true significance of Islamic history and culture must be sought”, (“The 
Community in Islamic History”, in Proceedings of the American 
Philosophical Society , Vol. 108, 1963, p. 173) 

For an analysis of the concept of religious hypocricy, see The Structure 
of the Ethical Terms in the Koran , chapter Xl. 

“(God) found thee erring (away from the right 
path) and guided thee”. (90:7). 

' Uu 

You are the best community ever produced for mankind, enjoining the 
right and forbidding the wrong, and believing in God. (Ali ‘ Imran , 

3:106 [110]) 

Likewise We made you a middle ummah , that you might be witnesses 
to all people. (ATHaqarah, 2:137 [143]). 


God and Man in the Qur’an - 

On this important term, see the next chapter, section V. 

Those who are particularly interested in the Qur’anic concepts of social 
system may obtain a general introductory knowledge from The Social 
Laws of the. Qur'an by Robert Roberts, London, 1925, although the 
investigation is not conducted from a semantical point of view. For a 
more detailed survey of the subject, I would recommend Muhammad 
Darwaza’s book, al-Dustur al-Qur’am ft Shu ’un al-Haydh , Cairo, 

i a l (65:12) 

lb fji, iW aS 


12. See above, Chapter I, section II. 

13. DTwan *. Antarah , p. 83, v. 4. 

14. DTwan al-Hudhaliyym , I, Cairo, 1945, p. 1945, p. II, v. 2. The poet is 
Abu Dhu’ayb. The word ghayb appears in this verse in the plural form, 

15. Al-Hutay‘ah, zMukhadram poet. al-Majamal-HadTthah, by al-Bustani, 
II., p. 37. 

16. The contrast between shahadah and ghayb in this sense is most clearly 
observable in a verse by a Hudhayl poet Ma‘qil b. Khuwaylid (DTwan 
al-Hudhaliyym , III, Cairo, 1950, p. 70, v. 3). 

17. On this poet and his singularly monotheistic thought, see the next 
chapter, section V. 

18. The poet is Iy&s b. al-Aratt, DTwan al-Hamdsah CDLXXXV, 2. It is 
quite interesting to note that the same words lahw (jesting, diversion), 
and la ' ib (sporting) occur in this combination also in the Qur’an, but 
with a completely reversed intention, i.e., the intention of disparaging 
the so-called goods of the present world: 

The life of the present world is naught but a pastime and diversion. 
Surely far better is the Abode of the Hereafter for those who are 
godfearing. Do you not understand? ( Al-An ‘am, 6:32). See also 57:19- 
20 [ 20 ]. 

19. Al-Hamdsah , CDXLIX, 1-2. 

20. ‘Abld b. al-Abras, DTwan , Beirut, 1958, XV, 28. 

21. ‘Antarah, DTwan , p. 168, v. 14. 

22. ‘Antarah, DTwan , p. 80, v. 8. 

23. Ibid. p. 135, v. 10. 

24- (36:28) 

25. (83:73) 

The Basic Structure of the Qur ' anic Weltanschauung 99 

26. (21:5) 

27. Ui&J (11:10 [7]) 

28. Charles Lyall, Ancient Arabian Poetry , London, 1930, in the 
explanatory notes on this Mu'allaqah pp. 119-120. 

29. DTwan al-Hamdsah, XL, 2. # 

30. ‘Antarah, DTwan , p. 80, v. 12 « oljf [^o]» 

31. Al-Hamdsah , CCCLXXXV, 3. ' 

32. The poet is al-Jumayh al-Asadl. DTwan al-Mufaddaliyydt , Cairo, 1942, 
CIX, v. 13, p. 368. See also Mu‘allaqah of Harith, v. 14. 



I. The Word Allah , its ‘Basic’ and ‘Relational’ Meanings 

As I have pointed out repeatedly in the course of the previous 
account, Allah is the highest ‘focus-word’ in the Qur’anic system, 
which is surpassed by no other word in rank and importance. The 
Weltanschauung of the Qur’an is essentially theocentric, and quite 
naturally in this system the concept of Allah reigns over the whole 
from above, and exerts a deep influence on the semantic structure of 
all the key-words. Whatever aspect of the Qur’anic thought one may 
wish to study, it is necessary that one should have from the outset a 
•clear idea as to how this concept is structured semantically. This is 
why I have decided to devote a whole chapter to a somewhat detailed 
analysis of the concept before entering upon the consideration of our 
major problem, that of the fourfold relation between God and man. 
It goes without saying that the real semantic’ structure of the word 
Allah will become fully clear only after we have analyzed this God- 
man relation, because, as I said at the beginning of the last chapter, 
God in the Qur’anic Weltanschauung does not subsist in His glorious 
self-sufficing solitude and stand aloof from mankind as does the God 
of Greek philosophy, but deeply involves Himself in human affairs. 
Leaving this latter aspect of the problem to the following chapters, 
I would like to concentrate on the present chapter on the more 
specific subject of the pre-Qur’anic history of the concept of Allah. 
This will put us in a better position to see what is original in the 
Islamic concept of God, and will thereby serve as a good preliminary 


Allah 101 

to the analysis that will come later of the fundamental relation 
between God and man in the Qur’anic thought. 

Let us begin by remarking that the name itself of Allah is 
common to Jdhiliyyah and Islam. When, in other words, the Qur’anic 
Revelation began to use this word, it was not introducing a new name 
of God, a name strange and alien to the ears of the contemporary 
Arabs. The first problem, then, that we must answer is: Was the 
Qur’anic concept of Allah a continuation of the pre-Islamic one, or 
did the former represent a complete break with the latter? Were there 
some essential — not accidental — ties between the two concepts 
signified by one and the same name? Or was it a simple matter of a 
common word used for two different objects? 

In order to give a satisfactory answer to these initial questions, 
we will do well to remember the fact that, when the Qur’an began to 
use this name, there immediately arose serious debates among the 
Arabs of Makkah. The Qur’anic usage of the word provoked stormy 
discussions over the nature of this God between the Muslims and 
Kafirs as is most eloquently attested by the Qur’an itself. 

What does this mean from the semantical point of view? What 
are the implications of the fact that the name of Allah was not only 
known to both parties in their discussion but was actually used by 
both parties in their discussion with each other? The very fact that the 
name of Allah was common to both the pagan Arabs and Muslims, 
particularly the fact that it gave rise to much heated discussion about 
the concept of God, would seem to suggest conclusively that there 
was some common ground of understanding between the two parties. 
Otherwise there could have been neither debate nor discussion at all. 
And when the Prophet addressed his adversaries in the name of 
ARah, he did so simply and solely because he knew that this name 
meant something — and something important — to their minds too. If 
this were not so, his activity would have been quite pointless in this 

Speaking more generally, a name, i.e., a word, is a symbol of 
something; a name is always the name of something. So when a man 
addresses another using a particular word and the latter understands 
his speech and even gives a retort, we may reasonably suppose that 
the name points at least to some conceptual element which is 
common to both parties, however much they may differ from each 
other in their understanding of the name as regards all other elements. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



And this common semantic element in our particular case must have 
been something referring to an extremely important aspect of the 
concept of Allah, seeing that it raised such a keen and crucial issue 
among the Arabs of that time. 

Now the problem is: What was this common element? We may 
answer this question conveniently in terms of the methodological 
distinction between ‘basic’ and ‘relational’ meaning. In other words, 
the common semantic element of which we are talking now may be 
sought for in two different directions 

Let us begin with the ‘basic’ side of the matter, keeping well in 
mind that the ‘basic’ meaning does not exhaust the common element 
in question. 

As regards the ‘basic’ meaning of Allah, we may remark that 
many Western scholars have compared rightly — to my mind — the 
word in its formal aspect with the Greek ho theos which means quite 
simply “the God”. On such an abstract level the name was common 
to all Arab tribes. In pre-Islamic times each tribe, as a rule, had its 
own local god or divinity known by a proper name. So, at first, each 
tribe may have meant its own local divinity when it used an expre- 
ssion equivalent in meaning to “ the God”; this is quite probable. But 
the very fact that people began to designate their own local divinity 
by the abstract form of “the God” must have paved the way for the 
growth of an abstract notion of God without any localizing qualifi- 
cation and then, following this, for a belief in the supreme God 
common to all the tribes. We meet with similar instances all over the 

Besides, we must remember, there were the Jews and the 
Christians with whom the Arabs had constant opportunities of a close 
cultural contact. And naturally these Jews and Christians both used 
the same word Allah to denote their own Biblical God. This must 
have exerted a great influence on the development of the pre-Islamic 
concept of Allah among the Arabs towards a higher concept than that 
of a mere tribal divinity, not only among the town dwellers but also 
among the pure Bedouins of the desert. 

However this may be, it is certain from the Qur’an alone, that 
by the time Muhammad began to preach, the pagan Arabs had come 
to cherish at least a vague idea, and perhaps also a vague belief in 
Allah as the highest God standing above the level of local idols. 

Thus much we may reasonably assume as the ‘basic’ meaning 

of the word Allah in Jahiliyyah. And this much meaning, at least, 
must the word have carried into the Islamic system when the Qur’an 
began to use it as the name of the God of Islamic Revelation. For 
otherwise, as I have said, even a polemic discussion on this Islamic 
God could not have been possible between the Muslims and the 
Makkan pagans. 

However, this is not the whole picture. We would co mmi t a 
grave mistake if we imagined that this ‘basic’ meaning was the sole 
point of contact between the two conceptions of God. The thing did 
not occur in such a way that the pure concept of Allah with its 
simple ‘basic’ meaning, which is suggested by its formal 
structure — Allah=ho theos — came straight into the Islamic conceptual 
system falling down, so to speak, from some metaphysical world of 
pure concepts. But actually, i.e. historically, it came into the Islamic 
system through another system, namely, the pre-Islamic system of 
religious concepts, however crude the latter might have been. Before 
the name came into Islam, it had already long been part of the pre- 
Islamic system, and a considerably important part, too. 

What does this fact imply semantically? It implies before 
anything that this word, in addition to its ‘basic’ meaning, had 
acquired in the JahilT system a great deal of ‘relational’ meaning 
peculiar to the JahilT Weltanschauung. And all these ‘relational’ 
elements must have been present in the minds of the people of 
Makkah who listened to the Qur’anic recitation, at least in the first 
period of Muhammad’s prophetic career, because they were still 
completely heathen, and were still living in the old traditional JahilT 
system of concepts. To put it in another way, when the Islamic 
Revelation began, the pagan Arabs of Makkah could possibly have 
no other way of understanding the word Allah than by associating 
with it all the semantic elements that were already present in their 
minds. This was the first big semantic problem which faced the 
Prophet Muhammad when he started his prophetic career. 

Now the problem is: What were these relational semantic 
elements which the word had acquired in the JahilT system? And how 
did Islam react to them? Did it reject them altogether as essentially 
incompatible with the new conception of God, as one might be 
tempted to suppose? All the historical evidence that has come down 
to us speaks eloquently against this view. Since Jdhiliyyah and Islam 
have always been put in sharp contrast, we are almost instinctively 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



inclined to think that there must have occurred a complete break in 
every respect between the two when Islam arose. However, the 
Qur’an itself bears abundant testimony to the fact that the matter was 
not so simple. 

Certainly, of all the ‘relational’ elements that had grown around 
the concept of Allah in the system of Jdhiliyyah, Islam found some 
quite erroneous, incompatible with its new religious conception, and 
it fought strenuously against them and against those who upheld 
them. The chief of those objectionable elements was the idea that 
Allah, although admittedly the supreme God, allowed the existence 
of so-called ‘associates’ ( shuraka ") besides Him. 

But apart from this polytheistic element and some other less 
important points, the Qur’an acknowledges that the general concept 
of Allah entertained by the contemporary Arabs was surprisingly 
close to the Islamic concept of God. The Qur’an even wonders in a 
number of. important verses why the people who have such a right 
understanding of God can be so obstinate in refusing to admit the 
truth of the new teaching, as we shall see presently. 

In considering the problem of the development among the pre- 
Islamic Arabs of the ‘relational’ meaning of the word Allah, I think 
it is essential that we should distinguish between three different cases 
and examine the matter very carefully from the three different angles. 

I. The first is the pagan concept of Allah, which is purely 
Arabian — the case in which we see the pre-Islamic Arabs themselves 
talking about “Allah” as they understand the word in their own 
peculiar way. The interesting point is that pre-Islamic literature is not 
the only source of information we have at hand on the subject; full 
first-hand information is obtainable from an extremely vivid descrip- 
tion of the actual situation given by the Qur’an itself. 

II. The case in which we observe the Jews and the Christians of 
pre-Islamic times using the very word Allah in referring to their own 
God. In this case ‘ Allah ’ means of course the God of the Bible, a 
typically monotheistic concept of God. Exceedingly interesting 
examples are found in this respect, for instance, in the work of ‘Adi 
b. Zayd, a well-known Arab Christian, the Court poet of al-HTrah. 

III. Lastly, the case in which we see the pagan Arabs — non- 
Christian, non-Jewish pure Jdhilf Arabs — handling the Biblical 
concept of God under the name of ‘ Allah ’. This happens, for 
instance, when a Bedouin poet findr occasion, as he often docs in 

Jdhiliyyah, to compose a poem in praise of a Christian king, his 
patron. In such a case, he is using the word 'Allah', consciously or 
unconsciously, in the Christian sense and from the Christian point of 
view, despite the fact that he himself is a pagan. Quite apart from the 
problem as to how deep was the degree of the Arab understanding of 
the Christian concept of God in general, it is, I think undeniable that 
very often in such cases, particularly when the poet happened to be 
a man of keen intellectual curiosity like Nabighah and al-A‘sha al- 
Akbar, or a man of a deep religious nature like Labrd, that 
considerable effort was exerted on their part, if not consciously and 
intentionally, at least unconsciously, to put themselves in a Christian 
position temporarily by a sort of empathy. And this empathic attitude, 
whether its core was a deep religious emotion or but a superficial 
understanding of a foreign belief, must have been powerful enough 
to influence the conception of God not only of the poet himself but 
more generally of his listeners, and thereby modify, in however slight 
and almost imperceptible a degree, the Arab concept of Allah in the 
direction of monotheism. 

This last case is, as is easy to see, the most interesting and the 
most important of the three. But it seems to have escaped the atten- 
tion of those who have dealt with the problem of the influence of 
Christianity on pre-Islamic Arabia. 

In any case, these three different ways of approach seem to have 
been gradually moving in the last years of Jdhiliyyah towards a point 
of convergence; they were preparing the way for the coming of a 
new concept of Allah, that of Islam. It will be well to recall in this 
connection that the Arabs in the sixth and seventh centuries were no 
longer living in primitive cultural conditions as one might be tempted 
to imagine. On the contrary, Arabia at that time was an open stage 
of lively cultural contact and international competition between 
peoples of ancient civilization, and the Arabs themselves were begin- 
ning to take an active part in this competition, as we shall see more 
in detail later . 1 Under such conditions, we should rather be greatly 
surprised if the concept of God among the Arabs remained just as it 
had been in the days of primitive paganism. 

To the three cases we have just mentioned we may add one 
more case — an extremely special one — which remained to the last 
independent of and somewhat aloof from, the others until Islam arose 
and brought it suddenly into the brilliant light of history. I am 

106 God and Man in the Qur’an 

thinking of the concept of Allah peculiar to a very particular group 
of men in Jahiliyyah, known under the name HanTfs, and represented 
by, in our case, by the poet Umayyah b. AbT al-Salt, who, although 
was neither a Jew nor a Christian, held religious ideas that were 
strikingly monotheistic in nature, and who must have made in many 
ways an important contribution to the permeation of Arabia by 
Jewish and Christian ideas. He was indeed an extraordinary figure in 
late Jahiliyyah. And the way he used the word Allah is most 
interesting from the Islamic point of view. 

II. The Concept of Allah in Arabian Paganism 

Let us now turn to the first of the four cases as distinguished above, 
that is, the autochthonous concept of God in pre-Islamic Arabia. I 
would begin by pointing out that even without having recourse to 
non-Qur’anic literature, that is, relying solely on the testimony of the 
Qur’an itself, we can ascertain the very important fact that not only 
did the concept of Allah exist in the religious view of the pre-Islamic 
Arabs, but, furthermore, the concept had already a well-developed 
inner structure of its own, namely: 

1 . Allah in this conception is the Creator of the world. 

2. He is the Giver of rain, i.e., more generally, the Giver of life 
to all living things on earth. 

3. He is the One who presides over the most solemn oaths. 

4. He is the object of what we might justly describe as 
‘momentary’ or ‘temporary’ monotheism, the existence of 
which is evidenced by the recurring expression in the Qur’an 
“making (momentarily) their faith pure for Him alone”. 

5. Finally, Allah is the Lord of Ka ‘bah. 

These five fundamental points are discernible in the structure of 
the concept of Allah in the Weltanschauung of Arabian paganism; this 
we know by the testimony of the Qur’an. And of course no stronger 
testimony could there be on this point. These are, roughly speaking, 
the major elements of the relational meaning attached to the word 
Allah in Jahiliyyah, that the Qur’an did not find incompatible with its 
new religious conception. Here follows a brief explanation of these 



As has been casually mentioned in the preceding section, the 
concept of Allah that was prevalent among the pre-Islamic Arabs on 
the eve of the Islamic era was, in general, surprisingly close in nature 
to the Islamic one, so close, indeed, that the Qur’an sometimes even 
wonders why such a right understanding of God does not finally lead 
the disbelievers to acknowledging the truth of the new teaching. 

In Surah al-‘Ankabut, for example, we read: 

If you ask them (i.e. the pagan Arabs) “Who has created the 
heavens and the earth, and has imposed law and order upon the 
sun and the moon?” They will surely answer, “Allah!”. 

Al-Ankabut, 29:61 

And immediately following this passage. 

^ 0 ^ 4 / / A * J 0 * . + £ i. S *-■ ^ ^ ''V 

J** Crt Jpj*' ^ ^ ot oy Cr* p-pu* 

If you ask them “Who sends down rain from the sky and revives 
therewith the earth after it has been dead?” They will surely 
answer, “Allah!” 

Al-Ankabut, 29:63 

Apparently, then, Allah was, already in the conception of the 
pre-Islamic Arabs the Creator of the world and the Giver of rain, i.e., 
the giver of life to all that exists on earth. The only serious complaint 
brought against them by the Qur’an in this respect was that the 
pagans failed to draw the only reasonable conclusion from the 
acknowledgment of Allah’s being the Creator of the heaven and the 
earth: that they should serve Allah alone and none else. The Qur’an 
expresses this sentiment by such phrases 2 as “How, then, can they be 
turned aside (from the right direction)?” and “But most of them do 
not know how to excercise their intellect (i.e. how to draw the right 

Even of greater interest than this in this respect is the fourth of 
the above-mentioned points. It is a singular phenomenon which I 
have called ‘temporary monotheism’, and which the Qur’an describes 
by a no less singular phrase: "making their religion sincere, or pure, 

1 UK 


CiOD and Man in the Qur’an 

for Him, i.e., for Allah alone”. 

In many passages of the Qur’an we are told that the pagan 
Arabs, when they find themselves in danger of death, with almost no 
hope of escape, particularly on the sea, call upon Allah for help and 
“make their religion pure for Allah”. Only one example may suffice. 

ii an jikr 

And when waves enshroud them like dark clouds, they cry unto 
Allah, making their faith pure for Him alone. 

Luqman, 31:31 [32] 

It is indeed remarkable that this expression implies that in an 
emergency, when they really felt that their own life was in mortal 
danger, the pagan Arabs used to have recourse to ‘temporary mono- 
theism’ apparently without any reflection on the grave implication of 
such an act. That the phrase “making one’s religion pure for Allah” 
in contexts of this kind means what we might call ‘momentary — or 
temporary — monotheism’, and not simply ‘sincerity’ or ‘earnestness’ 
in one’s prayer 3 is clearly shown by the fact that in the majority of 
the verses in which this expression is used the Qur’an adds the 
remark that these pagans, as soon as they reach the shore and feel 
sure of absolute safety, forget about all that has passed and begin 
again “to ascribe partners to Allah”, i.e., fall back into their original 

yT lil 

But when He brings them safe to land, behold, they begin to 
ascribe partners. 

Al-Ankabut, 29:65 

That the Jahill Arabs were prone to neglect the worship of Allah 
in ordinary daily conditions, but were always reminded of His name 
whenever they found themselves in an unusual and serious situation 
is shown also by the fact that, according to the Qur’an, the most 
sacred and solemn oaths used to be sworn in Jahiliyyah in the name 
of Allah. 


And they swore by Allah their most earnest oath . 

Fatir, 35:40 [42] 4 

Of particular importance in determining the place occupied by 
Allah in the Jahilf system of concepts is the fact that He was consi- 
dered the ‘Lord of Ka‘bah’, the highest sanctuary of Central Arabia. 
This we can prove by ample evidence from pre-Islamic poetry, but 
nothing, of course, can be more decisive and authoritative than the 
Qur’an itself. In the very famous Surah Quraysh which is admittedly 
one of the oldest pieces of Revelation, the Quraysh are urged strongly 
to worship “the Lord of this House”, 5 who causes the two annual 
caravans, in winter and summer, to be equipped, and takes good care 
of them with a view to making them live in peace and security. Here 
the idea of Allah’s being the Lord of Ka’bah is simply taken for 
granted as something natural and generally acknowledged. It suggests 
that at least the religiously more enlightened ones of the people of 
Makkah were conscious of worshipping Allah at this shrine. 

Allah, in this particular capacity, was known among the pre- 
Islamic Arabs imder the name of the “Lord of the House” ( Rabb al- 
Bayt), “Lord of Ka’bah” ( Rabb al-Ka 'bah) or “Lord of Makkah” 
( Rabb Makkah). Pre-Islamic literature furnishes ample evidence to 
show that the conception of Allah as the Lord of Makkan sanctuary 
was exceedingly widespread among the Arabs even outside the 
narrow confines of the town of Makkah. Here I give one of the most 
interesting examples. The following is a verse by the very famous 
pre-Islamic Christian poet of al-Hlrah, ‘Adi b. Zayd. The verse is in 
one of his odes which he composed in the prison into which he had 
been thrown by the King al-Nu‘man III. 

iSCJ l/jj ipt b & V 

The poet complains to the king saying that the malignant 
slanderers did everything they could do in order to sow discord 
between him and the king. 

“The enemies tried hard against me”, he says, “without desisting 
from doing anything that could harm me, by the Lord of Makkah and 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



the Crucified”. 6 

In this verse ‘AdT b. Zayd claims his complete innocence and 
says that the misunderstanding on the part of the king has been prod- 
uced only by the machination of the slanderers envious of his good 
fortune, and in order to give special weight to this declaration he 
swears by the Lord of Makkah and Christ putting together the two 
‘Lords’ into a single oath. 

What is important to remember regarding this verse is that the 
poet ‘AdT b. Zayd was an Arab Christian, but he was neither a simple 
Arab nor an ordinary Christian. He was a man of the highest culture 
of his age. He was brought up and educated in a high Persian society 
at the time when the Sassanian culture was at its apogee under Kisra 
Anushirwan; he occupied a high official position, went to 
Constantinople in the capacity of a diplomat, so to speak, when the 
Emperor Tiberius II was at the head of Byzantium and came to know 
Christianity more deeply at this big center of Christianity. And as an 
Arab poet, he was justly regarded as the greatest of the whole tribe 
of TamTm. 

The fact that this man of highest culture and education put in 
one of his solemn oaths, the Lord of Makkah and Christ together is 
significant, in my view in two different ways: it is of importance, 
first of all, in connection with the problem of the relational meaning 
of the word Allah in its purely Arabian aspect. That a highly 
educated Christian, not a pagan Arab, living in al-HTrah, away from 
Makkah, did use this concept of the Lord of Ka‘bah in this way 
shows better than anything else how widespread and influential was 
this particular connotation of Allah. 

But it is also significant, and perhaps even more significant — 
albeit more delicate and subtle — in connection with the second case 
as distinguished above, that is, the problem of the purely Christian 
conception of Allah that was prevalent among the Arab Christians of 
that age. 

The example of ‘AdT b. Zayd’s verse would seem to suggest, at 
least to my mind, that there was in the Christian psychology an 
unconscious tendency or inclination towards identifying their 
Christian concept of Allah with the purely pagan Arabian concept of 
Allah as the Lord of the Makkan shrine. I would not say a complete 
identification, but at least the first step towards it, i.e., a non- 
incompatibility between the two. Otherwise the expression would 

have been merely a most strange and bizzare combination of ideas. 

And if this understanding of mine is right, then perhaps we 
might say with some confidence that this kind of attitude on the part 
of the Arab Christians must have played an extremely important role 
in the development of a lofty and spiritualized concept of God among 
the pagan Arabs themselves. 

However this may be, we do not have to attach so much 
importance exclusively to this very particular problem of the partial 
identification of Allah the Lord of Ka‘bah and Allah the Christian 
God. More generally, the very fact that the Christians — and the Jews, 
for that matter — used the same word Allah in reference to their 
Biblical God this fact alone must have been very influential on the 
religious development of the conception of the pre-Islamic Arabs, 
particularly so in the case of those of the more enlightened type 
represented by poets like al-N5bighah, al-A‘sh5 al-Akbar and LabTd, 
those Arabs, that is, who although pagan, had a good first-hand 
knowledge of the Christians and the Jews, their creed and their 
custom, a knowledge they owed to their close personal contact with 
them. This last point will be dealt with in more detail a few 
paragraphs later. In any case, the verse we have just examined will 
serve as an excellent introduction to our next topic which is presented 
by the case in which we see the word Allah used by the Jews and 
Christians according to their own conception of God. 

III. The Jews and the Christians 

The main problem of this section need not be dealt with at 
length in view of the fact that the general cultural situation of the 
Jews and the Christians in Jahiliyyah is a matter of commnon 
knowledge among the Orientalists. I shall restrict myself to some 
points of direct relevance to the topic of the present chapter. 7 

In those days, the Arabs lived surrounded closely by great 
Christian powers. Abyssinia, to begin with, was Christian; the 
Abysinians were Monophysites. The Byzantine empire, whose high 
civilization was greatly admired by the Arabs was of course 
Christian. The dynasty of Ghass&i who served as a kind of outpost 
in Arabia for the Greek Emperors of Costantinopole was Christian, 
from the second king ‘Amr I, famous for having built the monasteries 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



of Hall, Ayyub and Hannad, down to the close of the dynasty in A.D. 
637, when the last king Jabalah II was dethroned by the Muslim 
conquerers. The Ghassanids, too, were Monophysites. 

Al-Hlrah on the other hand, which was the Persian vassal-state 
and which exercised a great influence on the life and conception of 
even the desert Arabs, was, as is well-known, an important center in 
East Syrian, i.e., Nestorian Church. And as a result of their direct 
contact with these big centers of Christianity, some of the big 
nomadic tribes were in the process of Christianization. Furthermore, 
as noted above, many of the Arab intellectuals of the age had a 
considerable knowledge of Christianity. The great poet al-Nabighah 
is an outstanding example. Another great poet of Jahiliyyah, al-A‘sha 
al-Akbar had an intimate personal contact with the Bishops of NajrSn, 
and his knowledge of Christianity was far from being a superficial 
one, as his Diwan shows clearly and conclusively. 

It would be a mistake to suppose that the people of Makkah 
remained entirely uninfluenced by such a situation, if only for the 
reason that they, as professional merchants, travelled on business so 
often to these Christian centers. Besides, in Makkah itself, there were 
also Christians, not only Christian slaves, but Christians of the clan 
of Banu Asad b. ‘Abd al-‘Uzza. 

As to the Jews, quite a number of Jewish tribes had settled in 
Arabia. Yathrib, Khaybar, Fadak, Tayma’ and Wadi al-Qura being 
some of the most important centers settled by immigrant Jews or 
Jewish proselytes. And although in Makkah there seems to have been 
practically no Jew, the Makkans must have been familiar with some 
at least of the basic ideas and concepts of Judaism. 

Both the Jews and the Christians in Arabia used Arabic as their 
vernacular, and, as I have pointed out earlier, referred to their 
Biblical God by the very word Allah, which was something quite 
natural seeing that the ‘basic’ meaning conveyed by this word was a 
very abstract one that would correspond roughly to the Greek ho 
theos. This conceivably provided a good opportunity for the conver- 
gence of the two different concepts of God into a certain kind of 
unity, albeit a very vague one, in the JahilT minds. 

In general, Judeo-Christian religious concepts were, so to speak, 
in the air at that time, ready to influence both sides, I mean, both the 
JahilT Arabs and the Jews and Christians in their understanding of the 
position of each other. This is clcarly^rcflected in many important 

traditions. I will take up here one of them as an interesting example. 
It is a famous tradition about Waraqah b. Nawfal connected with 
Muhammad’s first appearance on the stage of history as Prophet and 
Messenger of God. Al-BukharT records it in his chapter on “How 
Revelation began to visit the Prophet” 8 in his HadTth collection. The 
story runs like this: 

When the very first Revelation “Recite in the name of thy Lord 
who created” 9 came to the Prophet in a very strange and awe- 
inspiring form, the Prophet who had never experienced such a thing 
before, naturally got panic-stricken. He lost all self-confidence; he 
was uneasy, nervous, and distressed. In short he himself did not know 
how he should understand this strange experience. 

His wife KhadTjah not only reassured him, but sought stronger 
reassurance for him from an authority. This authority was her cousin, 
the very famous Waraqah b. Nawfal b. Asad. Here is the text of the 
main part of the story as it has been handed down to us by al- 

ji j* J— jj <0 k j>- k> 

^ ^ — S" j ,JI j-. 

-Lj t 0^"" J t s ijl all I i-Li ^ .4 

H d jLii p* Ji\ L d oJlfli 

— * ■ * — * j j d i. i j L* aJJ i ^ y* j 15 y 

\j J y 4U ' J y cjaJl 

; Jli y*- j\ ;a) 1 J y. j Jli* y Jju - jt 

£ j-*a , — ii j y — j j lj t* ( JiC. .Ja. j 


Then she (i.e. KhadTjah) took him to Waraqah b. Nawfal b. Asad b. 
‘Abd al-‘Uzza, her cousin. Now this man who, had been converted to 
Christianity in the days of paganism was thoroughly conversant with 
Hebrew 10 and had made a copy of a considerable portion of the 
Evangel in Hebrew. He was at that time a very old man and had 
already lost his eyesight. KhadTjah said, “O my cousin, listen to the son 
of your brother ”. 11 Waraqah asked him, “Son of my brother, what have 
you seen?” Thereupon the Apostle of God told him about what he saw. 
Waraqah said, “This is precisely the ndmus that was once sent down 
to Mflsfl b. Imran (/ e. Moses). Would that I were young in (your days 
of prophclhood)! Would that I might still be alive when your tribe will 
expel you!” The Apostle of God asked, “Will they really expel me?” 


God and Man tn the Qur’an 

“Yes”, he replied, “No man ever brought what you have brought now 
without being treated as an enemy. If I could live until the day when 
you will be expelled, 12 1 should support you with all my might!” 

There is no positive reason for doubting the authenticity of this 
tradition; on the contrary, the very occurrence of the word namus , 
which is evidently non-Qur’anic, instead of the common Qur’anic 
term Tawrat (Torah) argues very strongly for its authenticity and 
genuineness. The word namus , which is indeed the pivotal point of 
the story, is clearly the Greek word nomos for ‘law’ i.e . the exact 
equivalent of the Hebrew Tor a. 

In any case, the story tells us that Waraqah who was well-known 
for his Christian religion and his good knowledge of Hebrew 
scripture, as soon as he heard from Muhammad what had happened 
to him, identified this apparently strange experience of Muhammad 
as something authentic belonging to the tradition of the Judeo- 
Christian monotheism. And this identification, to all appearance, gave 
confidence to Muhammad’s mind. 

All the preceding consideration would seem to lead us towards 
the only reasonable — to my mind at least — conclusion that by the 
time Islam arose in Makkah, a considerably lofty conception of Allah 
had already been developed among the Arabs, or was developing 
gradually, as a converging point of two originally different concepts 
of God. On the one hand, the Arabian paganism, had been gradually 
developing the concept of Allah, as the Creator of the heaven and the 
earth, the Giver of rain which causes the earth to produce all the 
good things for the benefit of mankind, the Mighty God who watches 
over the sacredness of oaths, the Founder of some of the old religious 
customs, 13 and the Great Lord ( Rabb ) having the whole world in his 
hand. 14 For this much we have the undeniable testimony of the 
Qur’an itself. And there is no cogent reason to deny that all this was 
part of the autochthonous religion of Arabian paganism, although this 
was evidently only the highest and best part of this religion. 

On the other hand, the monotheistic concept of God was 
spreading steadily among the Arabs, who, if they did not accept it as 
a matter of personal belief and faith, must have been at least well 
aware of the existence of some such concept of God among their 
neighbors and must have been quite familiar with it. 

Allah 115 

IV. The Judeo-Christian Concept of Allah 
in the Hands of the Pagan Arabs 

In the last two sections we have examined, first, the purely pagan 
concept of Allah, and then, the Judeo-Christian concept of Allah. We 
have seen how these two were gradually tending to converge into one 
in the latter years of Jahiliyyah. There was also something very 
important which served, as it were a bridge between the two shores. 
And with this we turn to the third case as distinguished above, 
namely, the case in which the Arabs, that is, the pagan Arabs who 
professed neither Christianity nor Judaism, had to talk about the 
latter, had to refer in their talk to things pertaining to these 
monotheistic religions. And, we might safely surmise seeing the 
general cultural situation of the time, such cases must have occurred 
not infrequently. Although we have no faithful contemporary records 
of what the Arabian people were saying among themselves on these 
matters, we find at least some interesting evidence in the work of the 
poets, particularly of those who used to compose in praise of their 
patrons, whether Christian kings of al-Hlrah or of Ghassan. 

And this is even far more important still than those cases in 
which we see the Christians and the Jews using the word Allah in 
reference to their God, because after all that is, in itself, something 
natural, too natural to give us any valuable clue to anything of real 

The case is quite different when, for example, al-Nabighah, a 
simple Bedouin poet, in addressing the Christian king of al-Hlrah, al- 
Nu‘man b. al-Mundhir, and singing in praise of the latter, uses the 
word Allah in this way: 

, „ , a ; ^ 9' & 

Aj j <ai ' ^ JJ 

Allah has completed upon him the best of his favors and let him gain 

victory and power over mankind. 15 

This LakhmT prince al-Nu‘man, widely known as Abu Qabus, 
whose reign fell roughly between 580 A.D. and 602 A.D., was a 
Christian who had been brought up in the Christian family of the 
very famous Zayd, the father of the poet ‘AdT b. Zayd whom we 
have just met So when the poet al-Nabighah uses the word Allah in 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



saying that the king owes his wonderful prosperity, wealth and power 
to the great favor of Allah, he must naturally mean the Christian God. 
At least this must be his intention. 

We have a confirmatory evidence in another verse by the same 
poet. Al-Nabighah, having lost the royal favor of al-Nu‘man, went to 
Ghassan and was warmly welcomed and honored there by King ‘Amr 
b. al-Harith al-Asghar, and began composing panegerics on this new 
patron and his family, known today under the name of “Ghassan 
encomia ( Ghassaniyyat ). In one of the most famous Ghassaniyyat , 
we find the following two verses that are far more interesting for our 
purpose than the one I have just quoted: 16 

jj' j ^ 

0 j-*- jt lli pj j* 


Here in praise of the Christian Ghassan he says, “They have a 
nature, like of which Allah has never given to any other man, that is, 
generosity accompanied by sound judgement that never deserts them. 
Their Scripture 17 is that of God (al-Ilah, the original form of Allah), 
and their faith is steadfast 18 and their hope is set solely on the world 
to come”. 19 

This phenomenon is of particular relevance to our present topic 
in two important ways. 

1. When the poet used the word Allah in this way — and, we 
must remember, he did not do it only once, but very frequently — 
something must have occurred in his psychology. It may have been, 
in the beginning, simply a slight change of nuance or a slight shift of 
view-point; in any case, something of no small consequence to his 
religious outlook must have been growing in his mind. For it is 
difficult to imagine that this way of using the word Allah did not 
exercise, unconsciously if not consciously, any influence on his 
image of God particularly when it repeated itself so often. And this, 
again, may very well have cast its reflection on his conception of 
Allah even when he was using the same word in reference to the 
non-Christian, purely Arabian God. 

2. Equally important is the fact that in Jahiliyyah , the social 
position of the poet was very high. The words uttered by a poet, 
especially a well-known great poet, were feared, venerated or loved 

according to cases as a real spiritual force; and they had all the 
weight of a-valuable social, or even sometimes national, asset. Poetry 
at that time was not a simple matter of personal expression of 
thoughts and emotions. It was a public phenomenon in the full sense 
of the word. 

Impressive words uttered by a famous poet were propagated 
immediately within the tribe and beyond the tribe to the comers of 
the Arab world, “flying faster than an arrow” as they said. The poets 
were literally leaders of the public opinion. 

So the fact that a great poet like al-Nabighah used the word 
Allan in the the Christian acceptation, putting himself, at least at that 
very moment, in a Christian position by empathy, should not be taken 
as a mere matter of personal liking or inclination. On the contrary, 
it must have influenced in an indirect unconscious way the religious 
outlook of his pagan contemporaries. It must have taught them how 
to understand the word Allah in its Biblical acceptation; more impor- 
tant still, it must have, further, induced them gradually to identify 
almost unconsciously their own pagan concept of God with that of 
the Christians. 

V. Allah of the Hanlfs 

Let us now turn to the fourth and the last variety according to our 
classification, i. e . , the conception of Allah peculiar to a group of 
people known as Hanlfs, 20 the pre-Islamic monotheists. The word 
hamf is an extremely problematic one. Its etymology still remains 
obscure, and consequently its ‘basic’ meaning is very hard to define 
in a final way. 21 But the problem in itself, however interesting, is of 
comparatively small relevance to us as far as concerns our present 
topic. What concerns us at this stage is the singularly mono- 
theistic — we might almost say, Qur’anic — conception of Allah 
entertained by the of this category. Let it suffice to remark that in the 
Qur’an the word hamf- — which is used many times, particularly in the 
MadTnan Surahs — means ‘monotheist’ in sharp contradistinction to 
the ‘polytheists’ or ‘idol-worshippers’ 22 (mushrikun). The word is 
associated with the name of Abraham “who was a Hamf and neither 
a Jew nor a Christian, one who did not belong to the idol- 
worshippers”. M In an important passage, 24 it is declared that this pure 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

monotheistic belief symbolized by the name of Abraham is “the true 
religion”, “the natural predisposition (fitrah ) to which God 
predisposed (fatara) mankind”. 

Among all those pre-Islamic Arabs who are known as Hanlfs 
Umayyah b. Abl al-Salt presents an unusually important case, because 
he was a very famous poet of the tribe of ThaqTf in Ta’if, and a 
considerable number of poems have been handed down to us under 
his name. Besides, Islamic Tradition (Hadlth) has also shown a lively 
concern for this man, because of his very particular relation with the 
Prophet Muhammad, so that his life is known tolerable, well at least 
better than any other Hanlfs. He is, in this sense, not a dark mystery, 
like other Hanlfs; he is in this sense, not a dark mystery like other 
Hanlfs; he stands to a certain degree in the daylight of history. 

As regards the poems that have been handed down to us, there 
is of course the big problem of genuineness. The problem is parti- 
cularly delicate in his case because his words and ideas bear so close 
a resemblance to the Qur’anic ones. Many of the poems attributed to 
him must be spurious . 25 But even supposing that half of them are 
non-genuine, there is no reason to doubt the genuineness of them as 
a whole, unless we take the absurd view that all the Muslims who 
made reference to this poet from the Prophet Muhammad himself 
down to the scholars of the Abbasid age were having a nightmare and 
talking in delirium strange things about him that did not correspond 
to any historical reality. 

Besides, even the forged part must contain a modicum of truth 
in it, for in cases like this, one cannot forge without having before 
one’s eyes a real model for copying, that is, some reality on which 
to base one’s forgery. So even the forged poems must reflect in a 
peculiar way the original thought and ideas of this poet. 

This man Umayyah b. Abl al-Salt is indeed an extraordinary 
figure in the whole JahilT literature. He was one of the leading 
personalities of the tribe of ThaqTf, and according to Abu ‘Ubaydah, 
the greatest poet of the tribe. In Jdhiliyyah he was said to be in 
search of the true monotheistic religion, away from all idol-worship, 
but he remained an isolated dissenter without being converted to 
Judaism nor to Christianity. And yet the spiritual atmosphere in 
which he lived was almost completely Christian and Jewish, parti- 
cularly the latter; and the Christian and Jewish elements he 
assimilated were mainly of Yemenite origin. 


He is reported to have studied Hebrew and Syriac seriously and 
read those parts of the Holy Scripture that were available to him at 
that time in these languages; this is partly corroborated by the exis- 
tence of a great number of Hebrew and Syriac words in his verses, 
which struck the philologists of the Abbasid period as extremely 
strange, so much so that, as Ibn Qutaybah says, of all the JahilT poets 
he was considered to be the only one whose poems could not be used 
as hujjah (evidence) in interpreting the Qur an because of this 
defect” i.e. “because of the abundance of strange words” {kalimat 
gharlbah) he used. 

According to tradition he wore always sack-cloth or coarse hair- 
cloth {masuh) as a mark of a man wholly devoted to worship he 
was predecessor of the later Sufis in this respect — declared wine to 
be unlawful (hardm), called the religion he was in search of din al - 
hunafa' (“the religion of Hanlfs”) and associated it with Abraham 
(Ibrahim) and Ishmael (IsmaTl). 

So far so good. But here begins that aspect of his which induced 
the Muslims to call him an “enemy of God” (‘ aduww Allah). He is 
said to have been firmly convinced that a ‘prophet’ ( nabiy ) would be 
raised among the Arabs, and that he himself would be that person. 
According to one tradition he held the view that after Jesus Christ 
there would be six appearances of ‘prophethood’ (nubuwwah); 
already five occasions had passed and there remained only one and 
the last chance, and he was expecting the choice to fall upon him. 

Whether this is true or not, when Muhammad appeared as the 
Prophet of the Arabs, Umayyah got furiously angry or dissapointed, 
or perhaps both, and began his campaign against Islam. He instigated 
greatly the Quraysh of Makkah to oppose him, and some poems have 
been handed down to us which he composed bewailing the pagans 
killed in the battle of Uhud. Among them there were two of his own 
maternal cousins, ‘Utbah and Shaybah, and he urged his tribesmen to 
take revenge upon Muhammad for their blood. And afterwards, he 
flew to Yemen, his spiritual home. 

He did not change to the last this inimical attitude towards the 
Prophet of Islam, and on his death-bed he is related to have said: 
“This illness will inevitably cause my death. I know that the religion 
of hanTf is true, but I cannot help entertaining a doubt as regards 

As regards his poems themselves we should say that they dis- 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

close a very, strange and even grotesque vision of the universe. Of 
course when we look at it from the Islamic point of view, there is 
nothing strange and bizarre in his poetic vision, but when we look at 
it against the background of the normal mentality of the Jahili Arab, 
we understand why even, in his lifetime he was already beginning to 
be enshrouded in a cloud of myths and legends. His world is a dark 
forest of Jewish imagery; a unique world of Jewish fantasmagoria. 

This world is also theocentric. There is One and only one 
personal God at the center of this world and He presides over 
everything existent. Around the image of this God, whom of course 
he calls Allah, there appear before our eyes apocalyptic pictures of 
His abode and His kingdom. He is sitting on his Throne 27 “alone and 
unique ” 28 enveloped in a dazzling veil of light . 29 

No human sight can penetrate through this veil of light and go 
up to the Divine Presence. The veil of light is surrounded by the 
heavenly host of angels whom he sometimes calls “strengthened 
creatures ”, 30 i.e., creatures made strong and powerful by Divine 
assistance; they are “arranged in lines”, some of them carrying the 
Throne, some of them silently listening to Divine Revelation ; 31 
among them Jibnl, i.e. Gabriel and Mikal, i.e., Michael and some 
others occupy the highest places. 

Then the Biblical stories of creation are told. The present life 
which we on earth are living is called dunya and its essential 
ephemerality is emphasized: nothing remains for ever; every living 
being must sooner or later become worn out and perish 32 except the 
only One who remains eternally, the Holy One, possessor of 
Majesty . 33 

Then comes an exhortation to the true monotheistic religion 
which he calls “Hanlfitic religion” {din al-hanifiyyah)', the only right 
way for man to take in this transient world is to stop following his 
blind desire ( hawaf 4 and to follow the Divine guidance (hudd). iS But, 
he says, the human mind is so made that it is naturally inclined 
towards “turning away from the truth ” 36 like “a blind man who goes 
deviating from the right path ”. 37 

The ultimate end of all this is the Last Judgment. And here we 
have an abundance of eschatological concepts stemming from the 
Bible. Hell and paradise are minutely described. All the sinners are 
brought up naked to the place of judgment and arc thrown into the 
“ocean of fire ”, 38 bound with long chains and crying “Woe is me! 



Woe is me!”, while those who have god-fearing 39 {muttaqumi) arc 
richly rewarded with the abode of blissful life, under the cool 
shadow of trees. 

This is, in broad and simple outlines, the picture of the world 
which Umayyah b. AbT al-Salt presents to our imagination. liven 
supposing, as I said above, that half of this picture were a forgery yet 
the animating spirit of the original Weltanschauung and its consti- 
tuents are not at all difficult to grasp through it. 

As to the Hanlfitic conception of Allah, we may observe that 
according to this poet, He is the “God of the whole world ”, 41 the 
“Creator ” 42 of everything and all creatures are “His servants”. 

p 0 2 l o- » ' 0 J \ > 

_LP* j Lp yb jV> ail 1 ^6 

He is Allah, the Creator of everything, and all the created things save 

Him willingly as faithful servants . 43 

That is to say, He is the Lord {rabb) of His servants. 

He is the Great King of the heavens and the earth , 44 who reigns 
over his subjects with absolute sovereignty. This majestic aspect ol 
Allah is referred to by one of the ‘strange words al-kalimdt cil- 
gharlbah, as Ibn Qutaybah called them— that have greatly vexed the 
commentators and lexicologists of the Abbasid period. The word in 
question is salTtat, originally a Syriac word, which occurs in the oil- 
quoted verse: 

» , t i> V A 

Jaz — • M 3 y JaJa-L-Jl ^ ' UU - j fU}/' JJ 

All men are Allah’s subjects; He is the Absolute Sovereign, on earth 
Omnipotent . 45 

And, most important of all, He is Unique, absolutely One. 

J yui d* jiu a J'j *S> jU f 

One with whom no one of the creatures ever disputes the kingdom, If 

is the One who stands alone without peers, even if His scivants (/.t 

men) do not make Him one, (that is, worship besides him other god 

and idols) 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Such is his conception of Allah. As far as these points are 
concerned, we see that the Hanlfitic conception of God has absolutely 
nothing contradictory and incompatible with the Islamic one. 

In any case, the very existence in Jdhiliyyah of a man like 
Umayyah b. Abl al-Salt would seem to be a striking indication that 
religious ideas resembling those of Islam were existent among the 
pre-Islamic Arabs, and that concepts characteristic of a spiritual 
religion were not at all unknown and alien to their minds, at least in 
the period just preceding the rise of Islam. This makes it also 
understandable why the Qur’an attached the new Islamic movement 
to the Hanlfitic tradition. This is the positive side of the matter. 

But it has also a negative side. While the positive side concerns 
the similarity between the Hanlfs and the Qur’an, the negative side 
relates to the esssential difference between the two. Referring to “the 
immense difference” between the Qur’an and the production of 
Umayyah b. Abl al-Salt, Sir Hamilton Gibb remarks: 46 “This is the 
vibrant moral tone that permeates it. 47 While the poems may echo the 
same moral lesson, there is nothing of the urgency and passion of the 
Qur’anic presentation. However vivid and sensuous Umayyah’s 
descriptions (of Paradise and Hell, for example) may have been, they 
do not seem to have had any marked effect upon his fellow-citizens 
of Ta’if, let alone the Makkans. Similar materials presumably 
circulated among other monotheistic circles and in other parts of 
Arabia, of course take their place within the total content of the 
Qur’an. But what gave them their effect in their Qur’anic presentation 
was that they were linked up with the essential moral core of its 

We should remark, too, that the so-called hanifiyyah was not a 
strongly organized spiritual group movement. These people stood 
each one of them alone and isolated in the pagan society. Their aim 
was strictly restricted to personal salvation, and not the salvation of 
other people, much less of mankind at large. In short, they were only 
isolated, exceptional figures. And in this sense, the religious Weltans- 
chauung of Umayyah of which we have just had a glimpse was 
presumably much less influential in determining the general atmos- 
phere of pagan Arabia than the vague and more general influence 
exercised directly by the Christians and the Jews. In any case his 
world-view did not represent the dominant note of the Jdhili 
spirituality. On the contrary, there is evidence to show that it was 


regarded by the pagan masses as something quite fantastic and 
bizarre. This we can see from the way the Makkan people reacted in 
general to the monotheism and eschatology of Islam as presented by 
the Qur’an. 

However it seems to be also certain that the activity of a man 
like Umayyah contributed considerably towards making the apoca- 
lyptic and eschatological ideas somewhat known to the pagan Arabs, 
who, although finding them quite repelling and absurd, must have at 
least come to know that there were around them a few queer people 

I who entertained such strange ideas. 

Keeping in mind the main points we have just examined, let us 
go back to the problem that was raised in the first partof this chapter 
concerning the way in which the Qur’an presented the Islamic 
concept of Allah to the pagan auditors. I think we are now in a 
somewhat better position to understand why the Qur’an, whenever it 
mentions the name of Allah, does not show any sign of hesitation or 
apprehension, any sign, that is, of offering something quite alien and 
unknown to the hearers. On the contrary it urges the pagan Arab to 
be more strictly consistent in their belief in Allah, and blames them 
for being logically so inconsistent. In addition to the examples 
already adduced we may quote, for instance: 

<.*dJ J jjL** J? j i/' 

Say: “Whose is the earth and whoever is in it, if you have the 
capacity to understand rightly? ” They will say: “Allah ’s ” Say: 
“Will you not then remember? ’’ (i. e. will you still refuse to come 
to your senses and awake to the Truth which is already there in 
your hearts in a latent form?) 

Al-Muminun , 23:86-87 [84-85] 

This expression “Will you not then remember?” (a-fa-la 
tadhakkaruna ) like a similar one which is also very often used “Will 
you not exercise your intellect” (a-fa-la ta'qiliina ), implies, in 
contexts of this kind, blaming and reproaching the pagans for being 
unable to draw, or perhaps even being unwilling to draw, the final 
and most important conclusion about Allah despite the fact that they 
have already such a right understanding of His nature. 

The next passage is even more explicit on this point. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



pJjS' j; J^s . j J •— lT - 

^0 y (3^ w, dJ O y) y£L~*n wO y^jMj 

Say: “In whose hand is the supreme dominion over all things 
and He protects while against Him no one can protect anybody , 
if you know?” They will say: “Allah's”. Say: “How then are 
you bewitched? ” 

Al-Mu’minun , 23:90-91 [88-89] 

We should notice this last forcible expression “How then are you 
bewitched?”. It expresses suprise at the sight of the people who know 
and acknowledge that Allah has in His hand the supreme dominion 
over the whole world of being, and yet do not worship Him as He 
should be. Their attitude is not understandable unless you suppose 
them all to be bewitched. 

Such an argument would lose its point completely if we do not 
suppose that the Qur’an assumes from the outset in those to whom 
Muhammad is to convey the Divine message at least some vague 
conception of Allah, which, although quite erroneous in many 
essential points from the standpoint of Islam, contains also a number 
of good and right elements that are quite acceptable. It is remarkable 
that the Qur’an, far from combating the latter, tries to make these 
elements more precise and impressive by force of logic. 


1. See Chapter 7. 

2. b JG (29:62) 0^ Si % (29:63) 

3. Of course this statement does not apply to a verse like the following, 
where the expression “making one’s religion sincere” should be taken 
in its literal sense. 

jij}\ aJ alii i jj * f - 

And they were commanded naught else than to serve God, making the 
religion pure for Him , as men of pure monotheism ( Al-Bayyinah , 98:4 

15]) ‘ ’ ^ 

4. Also Al-Nahl, 16:40 [38] 

5. Al-Quraysh , 106:1-3: 

\ IjLk 

6. Many people would feel inclined to translate the last word in the verse 
salfb as ‘Cross’, not ‘Crucified’ as I have done. I prefer my inter- 
pretation because it makes the expression livelier and more colorful in 
that it places two different ‘Lords’ — Christ and Allah — side by side. If 
we adopt the alternative interpretation, the reference to Christ becomes 
slightly less direct and the expression seems to lose thereby the 
nakedness, so to speak, and becomes less forcible. In either case, 
however, the general meaning remains exactly the same. 

7. For a more detailed survey of the whole problem, see, for instance 
Carlo Nallino, “Ebrei e Chistiani nell ’ Arabia Preislamica” (Raccolta 
di Scritti , vol. Ill), to which I myself am deeply indebted. 

8. HadTth No. 3: m «&\ Jl ^ ^ c-b OlS" 

9. .q dL j 

10. Literally: he could write the Hebrew writing. 

11. In addressing her old cousin, she made Muhammad “cousin of 
Waraqah” in order to show respect to the latter. 

12. Literally: if your day reaches me. 

13. 4:139 ff. 

14. Al-Mu ’minun, 23:88-91 [86-89]. 

15. DTwan al-Ndbighah , Beirut, 1953, p. 88, v. 4 

16. DTwan p. 16, vv. 2-3. 

17. majallatu-hum\ var. mahallatu-hum, “their home is God’s own land”. 

18. Or, “their religion {din) is right”. 

19. Or, reading khayra instead of ghayra , “what they wish for is the best 
of the ultimate end, i.e. Hereafter.” 

20. Arabic hanlf pi. hunafa. 

2 1 . See Charles Lyall, “The Words Hanlf and Muslim”, Journal of the 
Royal Asiatic Society , 1903, pp. 771 ff. 

22. For instance, 3:60 [67]; 3:89 [95]; 22:32 [31], etc., etc. 

23. 30: 29 [30] 

24. 2:129 [135]; 3:60 [67] 

25. Friedrich Schulthess, “Umajja b. Abi-s-Salt”, Orientalische Studien , 
Theodor Noldeke, Giessen, 1906, vol. I, pp. 71-89. The same scholar 
published later a critical edition of the poems attributed to this poet, 
1911, Leipzig, from which I draw material for the following desc- 
ription of his ideas. 

26 ^ Mfr-’L ji ^ IJe'p fl _^» 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

27. vU~J j. .Js* iLL. “the great king sitting on the Throne of Heaven” 

28. -L >- y J) p 

29. j >1' 

30. jA>- 


32. ^ 

33. JtiUrl ^Ui ^ y 

34. <>y* 

35. e^' 


37. l 3 -?* *3' 


39. "o ^uli" from taqwa , see Chapter 9, section II. 



41. ijV’ 

42. "jJiiLi" 

43 . "jLjJi Ly This corresponds to the Lord-servant relation between God 
and man, that we are going to discuss in Chapter 8. 

44. Olj* — j! 

45. Since those who handed down this verse and commented on the word 
were not sure even of this form, let alone its meaning, several variants 
have come into being: al-silitat UaiLji al-siltit -kjaiLi i . In Ibn 
Qutaybah’s al-ShVr wal Shu'ara’ gives al-saltdlit ujU'Vt t 

46. Sir Hamilton A. R. Gibb, “Pre-Islamic Monotheism in Arabia”, The 
Harvard Theological Review , Vol. LV, Number 4, 1962, p. 280. 

47. i.e. the Qur’an. 



Ontological Relation Between 
God and Man 

I. The Concept of Creation 

In a religious or philosophical Weltanschauung , the being and exis- 
tence of man forms as a general rule the major problem. The eternal 
and ever recurring question: Where does man come from? What is 
the source of his very being here in the world? This is one of those 
basic problems that have always disquieted the human mind. In the 
Qur’anic conception, the right answer — and the only right one — to 
this question is not far to seek: the source of being is God Himself; 
existence is conferred upon man by God as a gratuitous gift. In other 
words, there is, between God and man, a fundamental relation of 
creator and creature in this part of the Qur’anic divina commedia , 
Allah plays the role of the Giver of being and existence to man. He 
is the Creator of man, and man is nothing but his creature. Indeed, 
Allah is the Creator of the whole world, ranging from the angels 
above (40:18 [19]), Jinn (55:14 [15]), the heavens and the earth 
(14:22 [19], etc .), the sun and the moon, the day and the night 
(41:37, etc), to the mountains and the rivers (13:3, etc.), trees, fruits, 
grain and herbs (55:10-11 [11-12], etc.), and all kinds of animals, 
“some of them going upon their bellies, some of them going upon 
two feet, some, again, going upon four” (24:44 [45]). There will be 
no end if we go on enumerating what He has created. He is, in short, 
the “Creator of everything”. 1 And man is only one of these created 
things, albeit the most important one. In fact, the Qur’an may be 
regarded in a certain sense as a grand hymn in honor of Divine 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Creation. At any rate, the whole Qur’an is literally pregnated with the 
thought of Creation and a feeling of profound admiration for it. 

In the preceding chapter, we have seen that the concept itself of 
Divine Creation was not at all unknown to the pre-Islamic Arabs, and 
also that this concept seems to have been usually associated with the 
name of Allah. This association between ‘creation’ ( khalq ) and 
‘Allah’, however, was not always necessarily firm and definite. For 
the Qur’an tells us that there were some idol-worshippers who 
attributed this power of creation to the idols. 

<UJl ^ g ■ 1 t - 4jLjUl3 I yLU- jZ* LJ 

Or do they assign to Allah associates who have [allegedly] 
created just as He has created, so that the creative activity of 
both seems alike to them? Say: “Allah is the Creator of 
everything, and He is the One, the Almighty". 

Al-Ra ‘d, 13:17 [16] 

But this was presumably only an exceptional case. In more 
normal cases, creative activity was to all appearance ascribed to the 
highest God, Allah. And often, in Jahiliyyah literature, we are 
surprised to meet with the concept of Divine Creation which is 
exceedingly close to the Qur’anic one — unless, of course, we explain 
away all such cases as forgeries and interpolations. In the following 
verse, for instance, the concept of creation is associated with that of 
‘Lord’ (rabb). The poet is ‘Antarah. 2 

O bird, perching on the arak- tree, by a Lord who has created you, you 
must surely know where they (i.e. my beloved ones) dwell now. 

It is significant that the expression of “a Lord who created a 
bird” is here in an oath-formula. 3 Still more Qur’anic is the thought 
expressed by the poet in the following verse. 4 

IaIiu) lio \j\ Vlilj 

Ontological Relation Between God and Man 1 29 

Speaking about a girl who has just died, ‘Antarah says, "She 
was clinging to (the hope of) a long life. However, the One who 
created all living beings has taken her life away to make her return 
(to her original state)”. 

There seems to have been even the conception of Allah’s having 
raised up the sky and established the moon there. In the next 
example, the famous JahilT warrior-poet, Ba‘ith b. Suraym al- 
YashkurT refers to this idea, again in a solemn oath-formula. He 
swears “by the One who has raised up the sky and the moon” that he 
will surely take vengeance on his enemy. 5 

„ s s S o s S ^ * 

I solemnly swear by the One who has raised up the sky to its place and 
the moon also, both when it is full in the middle of the month and on 
the night when it is a crescent. 

Since the testimony given by the Qur’an itself and that afforded 
by pre-Islamic literature agree with each other as to the existence of 
the concept of creation among the Jahili Arabs, we may be quite sure 
about this matter. The problem that must be solved is rather: To what 
extent was this concept of Divine Creation influential in determining 
the nature of the Weltanschauung of the pre-Islamic Arabs. And when 
it comes to this point, we must admit that the concept was, on the 
whole, an extremely weak one having little influence on the actual 
life of the JahilT Arabs; it does not seem to have affected in any 
essential way the conception of human life and existence. In other 
words, a JahilT man could very well live on quite comfortably 
without having to pay any attention at all to the origin of his own 
existence. The significance of this point will be brought home if we 
remember, by way of contrast, the fact that the Qur’an urges the 
Muslims to be constantly conscious of their essential creatureliness. 
A Muslim who lost this sense of creatureliness would by that very 
fact cease to be a muslim in the real sense of the word, for, then, he 
would have fallen into the grave sin of ‘presumptuousness’ — an 
important concept which the Qur’an signifies by words like tughyan 
and istighna\ the former meaning roughly “to exceed the (human) 
bounds by insolence” und the latter “to feel one’s self completely free 
and indepeiulenl (/>. owing nothing to anybody, not even to God)”. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Thus the consciousness of creatureliness is linked directly with the 
problem of the Lord-servant relation between God and man which we 
are to discuss in a later chapter. 

So the mere occurrence of words like khalq (creation), khaliq 
(creator), bar f (originator) etc. in pre-Islamic literature should not 
mislead us into thinking that the concept of Divine Creation was 
playing a decisive role in the JahilT Weltanschauung. These and 
several other similar words meaning ‘creation’ that gathered around 
the name of Allah constituted only a vaguely defined and loosely 
delimited semantic field, which itself belonged in a larger field that 
consisted of words having reference to the supernatural order of 
being. But, we must recall, this semantic field of supernatural beings 
occupied in the whole of the pre-Islamic conceptual system only a 
narrow and peripheral place. Unlike the Qur’anic system in which 
Allah the Creator governs the entire Weltanschauung, Jahiliyyah did 
not attach great importance to this semantic field, which, therefore, 
did not play any decisive role in the JahilT Weltanschauung. This is 
tantamount to saying that the idea of Allah’s being the very ‘source’ 
of human existence, if it was there, meant very little to the minds of 
the pre-Islamic Arabs. And this is why the Qur’an tries so hard to 
bring home to them the very significance of this idea and to awaken 
them to the grave implication of it. 

II. Human Destiny 

There seems to be another important reason why the concept of 
Divine Creation was such a powerless one in the days of paganism 
despite the fact that concept itself did exist, as we have seen, among 
the JahilT Arabs. It was a weak concept because the Arabs in pre- 
Islamic times were not very much concerned about the problem of 
the origin of their being. Their attention, instead of being called to 
the ‘beginning’ of life, was predominantly directed toward the ‘end’ 
of life, that is, Death. In fact, every reader of pre-Islamic literature 
will become aware sooner or later that Death was the only subject 
that was liable to arouse in the JahilT mind something like 
philosophical meditation. The JahilT Arabs who, as we saw earlier, 
were by nature a people least inclined to philosophical thinking, 
could become philosophers only whcn^thcy were made seriously 

Ontological Relation Between God and Man 


conscious of the inevitability of death. Hence the favorite subject of 
pre-Islamic poets: the problem of khulud (the eternal life), the 
absolute unattainableness of which they were so painfully aware of, 
and which drove them to their characteristic philosophy of life, the 
pessimistic nihilism . 6 

In any case, whenever a JahilT man was not entirely absorbed in 
worldly-affairs, bravery, spoiling and plundering, whenever he found 
time to come back to himself and reflect on his life, the first problem 
that came to his mind seems to have been that of Death and of the 
‘powers’ or ‘causes’ that would bring it to him. This was the problem 
of human destiny for the pre-Islamic Arabs. It should be noticed that 
in this conception there is not involved the notion of the Hereafter, 
while in ordinary cases ‘human destiny’ concerns mainly the problem 
of life after death. In the case of the JahilT Arabs, even with regard 
to this problem attention is almost exclusively centered on the span 
of life on earth in the very present world, with major emphasis placed 
on the end of the line; what will come beyond that final point, 
whatever, it may be, is of no concern to the JahilT mind. Besides, as 
we have seen, for most of the pre-Islamic Arabs there could be 
absolutely nothing after the end of the present life. The body, once 
buried in the earth, decays and becomes dust while the soul flies 
away like the passing wind. 

z'ife rbJ) ^ jLiis' Gf jUi ‘Ja 

y- r 

What are we (if we were not a sort of combination of a body with a 
soul?) The body, we go down 7 with it (at our death) under the earth, 
while the soul (passes away) just like a gust of wind. 

Of all the stages of the life-time of a man, the last stage, i.e.. 
Death, was, as J have just said, the most important one in the JahilT 
conception of human existence. The first stage, that is, the origin and 
beginning of his existence, was not very much cared about. But when 
it was, it was normally linked up with the concept of creation. We 
remarked in the last chapter that the concept of Allah-Creator was 
known to the pre-Islamic Arabs. In the JahilT system, too, man was 
considered to owe his being and existence to the creative activity of 
Allah. But there is here an extremely interesting point to note. Man, 
once created by Allah, severes his tics, so to speak, with his Creator, 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

and his existence on earth is, from that time on, put into the hands of 
another, far more powerful. Master. And the tyrannical sway of this 
Master continues till the very moment of his death, which is nothing 
but the culmination of the tyranny and oppression under which he has 
been groaning through all his life. The name of this tyrannical 
Sovereign is Dahr (Time). In Chapter 3 we have quoted in 
connection with a different problem a verse from the Qur’an, in 
which this word with precisely this meaning, is put in the mouth of 
the Kafirs. 

(kffi j O fS $J| liS- ^ ^ £ 1 

They say: there is nothing but this present life of ours; we die 
and we live, and it is only 'Time ’ (Dahr) that destroys us. 

Al-Jathiyah, 45:23 [24] 

All5h Dahr 

Dahr has various other names: Zaman (Time), ‘Asr (Age), 
Ayyam (Days), ‘Awd (Time), but the underlying idea is always 
exactly the same. Here I give only a few examples. 

‘Awd? ssP'/j ft & tyj 

Zaman: 9 3^ *4, > Irk Jj 

Zaman: 10 Vi o-?U* [ji 

*A.Srfi ' yrz~ " -i 0^ 4- iil-Xi 

As regards Dahr itself, it is quite easy for us to isolate its basic 
image underlying this concept from any verse in which the word 
occurs. The following verse by Ta’abbata Shamran, for example, gives 
us the image of a merciless, cold-blooded tyrant against whom not 
even the bravest hero can fight: 

Ontological Relation Between God and Man 


JO — i L* fljl— >■ ^ L jliTj j — ■ 

Dahr has plundered me, the Dahr who is a merciless tyrant, of (a dear 
friend of mine) a haughty one who has never allowed his client to be 
disgraced, (i.e. let alone himself ). 12 

Very frequently Dahr is described as a wild ferocious animal 
that bites you with sharp teeth. 

y^jJl JU 

... for Dahr has hooked teeth (that never quit), ever ready to injure 

f J 1 ^ ^ r/ U vQ I iAiaP 1 ill 

When Dahr bites you with his dog-teeth in misfortune, bite him back 
with all your might as much as he bites you . 14 

Thus the pre-Islamic view of human life has at its very center 
‘Something’ dark and mysterious that extends its tyrannical sway 
over the life process of every individual man from the cradle to the 
grave. And this ‘Something’ which roughly corresponds to what we 
usually call ‘Fate’, is almost exclusively conceived of as a half- 
personal destructive force that not only brings all things to decay but 
also causes incessantly all kinds of suffering, misery and misfortune 
to human existence all through the span of life. This latter aspect of 
manifestation of its destructive activity has a number of particular 
names, like suruf (“ suruf of Dahr”), hadathan {hadathan of Dahr), 
or hawadith , rayb (“ rayb of Dahr ” or “rayb of Zaman”), etc., all 
meaning approximately “unpredictable turns (of Fortune)”; it is 
sometimes called metaphorically banat al-dahr (Daughters of Dahr). 

-Uuj jj ^ yili( Jf 

# * * 

. >* * * A 

^ LJ y*Jjl 

Alter huving seen the death of (my grandfather) the king al-Harith, and 
(my lather) llujr the Peerless, who possessed so many mansions, how 


God and Man rN the Qur’an 

could I hope for tenderness from the suruf (turns) of Dahr , which, I 
know, never leave untouched even the lofty mountains of massy 
rocks ? 15 

The Daughters of Dahr have shot at me from a place I cannot see. 
What can a man do when he is shot at without being able to shoot 
back ? 16 

And no one, not even the most valient warrior, the wisest sage, 
can escape from the blind and capricious tyranny of Dahr. At the 
root of the deep irremediable pessimism of Jahiliyyah lies such a 
dark conception of human destiny. 

The destructive power of Dahr becomes particularly manifest at 
the end of a man’s existence. It is interesting that Dahr then changes 
its name and assumes various new names, the commonest among 
them being maniyyah (pi. manaya), manun , himam , hummah } 1 In the 
following verse from the DTwan of the Hudhayl tribe, two of the 
words here mentioned are used side by side, showing that they were 
practically synonymous with each other. 

9 A 9 9 * * ' ' 9 ^ » 

Yes, indeed, Manaya always gains the ultimate victory, and even 
talismans are of no use against the destructive power of Himam . 18 

These words all mean ‘death’. But they do not simply mean 
‘death’, but ‘death’ as the last and most destructive manifestation of 
the power of Dahr. So, although in contexts of this kind we find the 
word mawt (death) often used in such a way that it might be replaced 
freely by one of these words, there is semantically a wide difference 
between the two cases. Mawt (death) as a natural — biological, we 
might say — phenomenon, while the group words that we are dealing 
with here belong to the semantic field of human destiny represented 
by the focus-word dahr. They refer, in other words, to the phase of 
the Dahr’s rule over a man’s life-time;- they represent the particular 
forms which Dahr assumes when it approaches the ultimate goal. It 

Ontological Relation Between God and Man 


is, quite natural that this goal itself should also be often designated 
by the same words . 19 

As regards this concept of the final point or goal of the Dahr’s 
rule, there is other important thing to be noticed. As we have 
remarked this final point corresponds, from the biological point of 
view, to ‘death’, just as ‘creation’ corresponds to ‘birth’. But this is 
not yet the end of the whole story. The final point of the Dahr’s 
death rule is capable of being viewed from a somewhat different 
angle, that of determinism. And it was in reality a very common view 
among the pre-Islamic Arabs. 

birth deaih 

The conception is that the final point of a man’s span of life is in 
each individual case definitely and immutably fixed and determined 
beforehand. Everybody, in other words, has an appointed day on 
which he has to meet his death. ‘Death’ from this point of view is 
called ajal (pi. ajal), ‘the doom’ or ‘the appointed time’. 

When that day arrives, anything, however small and weak, can 
kill anybody, however strong and powerful he may be. Al-Sa!akah, 
mother of the famous pre-Islamic outlaw al-Salfk, says bewailing the 
death of her son and consoling herself at the same time : 20 


Anything indeed can kill you when you meet your own ajal. 

It is, as al-Nabighah says in one of his poems on Dahr , 21 
something ‘written ( maktub , from kataba, to write)’. And nobody can 
put it back by a single day. 

‘fj illL > r bli 

When I get the arrow of Death [the allusion is to the game of chance, 
" kilul 0< ‘ lottery by arrows], I shall never lose my composure, for (of 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

what avail will it be?) Is there anybody at all who can remain alive 
beyond (the appointed time )? 22 

Whatever you may do, you cannot add even a single hour to 
your appointed time, as c Antarah 23 emphasizes in one of his poems: 

^ f. j\j» C—via>- L* lij jOj ^ j 

Do not flee once you have gone deep into a battle, for flying before 
the enemy will never defer your appointed time ( ajal ). 

Thus everybody has his own ajal , and every day is a step towards 
that fated time. Before the philosophic eye of the Jdhill poet there 
unfolds itself a magnificent and tragic panorama of all mankind 
marching steadily towards the ultimate end. 

3^1 i/js V* Yj o-idk L U 

Listen, Harith! There never rises the sun and never does it set but that 

the ajal (pi. of ajal) draw nearer the promised time ( mVad)} 4 

This is, indeed, a very gloomy view of life, the whole span of 
life being conceived of as a series of calamitous events, governed not 
by the natural law of growth and decay, but by the inscrutable will 
of a dark, blind, semi-personal Being, from whose strong grip there 
can be no escape. And only against the background of this tragical 
atmosphere can we understand the real historical significance of the 
Qur’anic world-view. 

In fact, the Qur’an offers an entirely different picture of the 
human condition. All of a sudden, the sky clears up, the darkness is 
dissipated, and in place of the tragic sense of life there appears a new 
bright vista of the eternal life. The difference between the two world- 

views on this problem is exactly like the difference between Night 
and Day. 

In the new Islamic system, too, Allah as the Creator marks the 
starting point of human existence. But already here, at the very 
outset, we begin to observe a fundamental change. In the old Jahill 
system, the creative activity of Allah is both the beginning and the 
end of His intervention in human affairs. He does not as a rule take 

Ontological Relation Between God and Man 137 

care of what He has brought into existence just like an irresponsible 
father who never cares for his children; the task is taken over, as wc 
have just seen, by another Being called Dahr. 

In the Islamic system, on the contrary, creation marks just the 
beginning of the Divine rule over the created things. All human 
affairs even the minutest and apparently most insignificant details of 
life are put under the strict supervision of Allah. And the most 
important point about this is that this God, according to the Qur’an, 
is the God of justice, who never does any wrong ( zulm ) to anybody. 
No more Dahr , nor more secret machinations of Dahr. The very 
existence itself of some such thing as Dahr is flatly denied and 
dismissed as a mere product of groundless imagination. The whole 
course of human life is now placed under the absolute control of the 
will of God. 

Of course, the problem of death still remains. Death is 

P Jj 3 - 1^? jOj 

Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, though you hide 
yourselves in castles solidly built. 

An-Nisa \ 4:80 [78 1 

Even the Prophet himself cannot be an exception. 

l o-* o* 

' * 

Never have We assigned immortality to any man before you 

(Muhammad). What! if you die, can other people live forever ? 

Every soul must taste of death. 

Anbiya’, 21:35-36 [34-35 J 

This is because Allah has “measured out death to all mankind”. 2 ' 
Allah “gives life and gives death” 26 as He likes. 

The concept of ajal continues to exist in the Islamic system just 
as it did in Jahiliyyah. Here, too, ajal is the ‘appointed term’, and, 
when applied to the concept of human life, it means nothing other 
than ‘death’ as the ultimate term determined by Allah. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

J*-' J ^ J ^ J* L?iJ' 

It is He who has created you from clay , then has determined a 
term (ajal). So there is an ajal (for your life) clearly stated with 

Al-An‘dm , 6:2 

y* dJ' yi jf ois^ 

^ -- * * 

No soul ever dies except by the permission of Allah, at a term 
clearly dated (in the knowledge of God). 11 

Ali ‘Imran, 3:139 [145] 

The inevitability of death in the form of ajal, however, does not 
lead, in the Islamic conception, as it used to do in Jahiliyyah, to a 
gloomy pessimistic view of human existence, because the ajal in this 
sense is not, in the new Weltanschauung, the real terminal point of 
existence. It is, on the contrary, the very threshold of a new and 
entirely different kind of life — the eternal life ( khulud ). In this 
system, the ajal, i.e. death, of each individual man is but a middle 
stage in the whole length of his life, a turning-point in his life history 
situated between the Dunya and the Hereafter. Unlike the JahilTv iew 
of life which would see nothing beyond the ajal, the Qur’anic view 
sees precisely beyond the ajal, the Qur’anic view sees precisely 
beyond the ajal, the real life, real because it is ‘eternal’ ( khalid) as 
the Qur’an is never tired of emphasizing. 

And just as each individual has his own ajal, the Dunyd itself 
has its ultimate ajal, which is nothing ljut the ‘Hour’ ( al-sd'ah ), the 

Ontological Relation Between God and Man 1 39 

Day of Judgment. Beyond this final ajal, man steps into the new life 
of eternity. It is to be remarked that in the Qur’anic conception, this 
whole process, comprising both the life in the Dunya and the life in 
the Hereafter, is under the administration of Allah, as shown in the 
above diagram. This raises, within the limits of the first half of the 
course of human existence — i.e., the stretch of the line between birth 
and death — the very famous problem of Qada’ wa qadar (Divine 
‘Foreordination’), which is admittedly one of the most difficult 
problems that the later Islamic thought had to face. 

Whether this thought of Divine Foreordination is already there 
in the Qur’an clearly stated and formulated as the theologians assert, 
or whether, as Dr. Daud Rahbar thinks, 28 the theologians are here 
reading into the Qur’an their own thought, is a difficult point to 
decide. But, however this may be, it is quite certain that the Qur’an 
itself raises this problem in an extremely acute form by the very fact 
that it puts the whole course of human life under the absolute control 
of the will of God. 

It is not necessary for us in the present study to try to explore 
the intricacies of this problem. The problem, in my view, rather 
belongs properly to Islamic theology. Besides, all the relevant 
passages in the Qur’an have been examined philologically by Dr. 
Rahbar. So I would be content here with adding few words to what 
he has said on this problem. 

That the concept of Foreordination is not an invention of the 
theologians is shown by the fact that even before the rise of Islam, 
almost exactly the same idea seems to have been circulating among 
some Arabs of a special religious tendency, and that even outside the 
small circle of the Hanlfs. The great poet Labrd who, as I have 
pointed out before, was famous for his deep religious nature, was one 
of those who openly professed the belief in Divine Foreordination. 
Here is an example: 

^ ^ ' 9 j * j / 

J-XloJ £> ^ y**-* 

We men are not able to erase what He (i.e. Allah) has once written 
down (kitab). How can this be, when His qada ' is absolutely 
unalterable . 29 

The word qadar is also used by LabTd with the same meaning: 30 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Ontological Relation Between God and Man 1 4 1 

j'jA i 

1 £ij 

Even in deep distress I never say ‘Woe is me!’ for what qadar has 
brought about. 

That this and similar verses should not be lightly explained away 
as forgery as it used to be done will be clear to all those who are at 
all familiar with the profound religiousness and the natural mono- 
theistic tendency of this poet. 

We must notice, further, that this usage of the word kitab “what 
Allah has written”, i.e. Divine Decree, is in no way an isolated 

In the DTwan of the Hudhayl tribe, 31 for instance, Usamah b. al- 
Harith uses the same word in the same sense, bewailing the hapless 
fate of his tribe, and says: 

duf our, 

...but such was the kitab (foreordination) for them! 


1 . .(102: !jr yi a y ^ Jin 

This then is Allah your Lord. There is no god save Him , the Creator 
of everything {Al- An ‘am, 6:102). 

2. DTwan, p. 128, v. 2. 

3. See above, Chapter 4, section II. The verb bard , for bara’a, is a 
synonym of khalaqa , meaning ‘to create’. 

4. DTwan, p. 60, v. 8. Mubdl , for mubdV comes from the verb abda’a 
meaning “to bring something into existence for the first time”: another 
synonym of khalaqa . 

5. Al-Hamdsah, CLXXV, 3. 

6. For a more detailed account of this JahilT philosophy of life, see The 
Structure of the Ethical Terms in the Koran , chap. V. 

7. Reading namurru instead of tamurru. The poet is ‘Abld b. al-Abras 
( DFwdn , Beirut, 1958, IX, 21). It is to be remarked that of the two 
' arwdhs , the first is the plural of ru/i (soul), and the second is the 
plural of rfh (wind). It seems to me (fiat Charles Lyall has completely 

missed the sense of this verse in his translation of the DFwdn of this 

8. “If only there were no arrow of ‘ Awd stuck into my whole body and 
limbs...”, said by the JahilT poet al-Find al-Zimmanl {al-Hamdsah 
CLXXVI, 3) lamenting over the decay due to old-age. 

9. (The wind and the rain) have completely changed the aspect of the 
abodes together with the decay due to time. Indeed, no guarantee there 
is against the destructive power of Zaman. (Tarafah, DTwan , ed. M. 
Seligsohn, Paris, 1901, IV, 4) 

10. “No sooner does a way of living seem enjoyable to us than it is 
destroyed completely by Zaman , whether it be old or new.” (‘ Antarah, 
DTwan , p. 61, v. 5) 

11. “If my locks grow grey, it is the work of *Asr, and the inevitable end 
of all that are young is grey hair.” (‘Abd Allah Salimah, al- 
Mufaddaliyyat , XVIII, v. 11) 

12. al-Hamasah, CCLXXIII, 6. 

13. lyas b. al-Aratt, al-Hamdsah , CDLXXXV, 3. 

14. Juraybah b. al-Ashyam, a Mukhadram poet, al-Hamasah, CCLX, 4. 

15. Imr’ al-Qays, DTwan , Cairo, 1958, II, vv. 10-11. 

16. ‘Amr b. Qamfah, DTwan , ed. Lyall, Cambridge, 1919, III, v. 11. 

17. On these and other related words in pre-Islamic literature, see an 
interesting philological study by Werner Caskel: Das Schicksal in der 
altarabischen Poesie , Leipzig, 1926. 

18. DTwan al-Hudhaliyyin, II, p. 62, v. 3, Sakhr al-Ghayy. 

19. Of course it often happens the words are used in a more loose sense. 
Then they are simply synonyms of dahr. 

20. al-Hamdsah , CCCX, 4. The poem is attributed to al-Salakah by al- 
Tibrlzl, while al-Marzuqi attributes it to “a woman whose name is 

21. al-Nabighah, DTwan , V, 4. As regards the important concept of 
‘writing’, see last paragraph of this chapter. 

22. ‘Urwah b. al-Ward, in the famous “Song of an Outlaw”, DTwan , 
Beirut, 1953, p. 42, v. 2. 

23. ‘Antarah, DTwan , p. 132, v. 5. 

24. ‘AbTd b. al-Abras, DTwan , XVIII, 2. 

25. 56:60. 

26. 9:117 [116]. 

27. Note the word kitab (“what is written”) in this verse. 

28. Op. cit. the chapters on Qadd and Qadar 

29. DFwdn, cd. I lubcr-Brockclmann, Leiden, 1891, XLII, 2. 

30. Cited by Cnskcl, op cit , p, 20, LabTd, XII, 18. 

31 DFwdn al HudhaliwJn, II, p. 197, v. I. 

Non-linguistic Communication 

14 1 


Communicative Relation 
Between God and Man: 
Non-linguistic Communication 

I. The ‘Signs’ of God 

There are two chief types of mutual ‘understanding’ between God 
and man. One is linguistic or verbal, that is, through the use of a 
human language common to both parties, and the other is non-verbal, 
that is, through the use of ‘natural sign’ on the part of God and 
gestures and bodily movements on the part of man. In both cases, 
quite naturally the initiative is taken by God Himself, the human side 
of the phenomenon being basically a matter of ‘response’ to the 
initiative displayed by God. 

The will of God to open up direct communication between Him 
and mankind manifests itself, according to the Qur’an, in the form of 
His “sending down” the ayat (pi. of ayah , ‘signs’). On this basic 
level, there is no essential difference between linguistic and non- 
linguistic Signs; both types are equally divine ayat. Revelation (wahy) 
which is the typical form of communication from God to man by 
means of language, is in this sense only a partial phenomenon 
comprised with several others under the wider concept of God-man 
communication. This is why the Qur’an actually calls the revealed 
words ayat without distinguishing them from other ‘signs’ of a non- 
linguistic nature that are also called ayat . 

But since the linguistic or verbal ayat form by themselves a very 
particular class, which is better designated by the technical term of 
Revelation (wahy), and since, moreover, this class is in some 
important respects quite different in nature and structure from the 


non-verbal ayat , and has so many characteristic features that are not 
shared by the latter, we may justifiably regard it as an independent 
unit and give it a separate treatment. This will be the special subject 
of the following chapter. 

The present chapter, in this sense, may be considered rather an 
introduction to the more specific and more important problem of 
Revelation, for it purports to give, first and foremost, the more 
general structural characteristics of Divine communication comprising 
both the verbal type and the non-verbal one. In any case most of 
what will be said in this chapter will apply equally well to the 
phenomenon of Revelation, of which it will provide a kind of 
background knowledge. This is true of course only of communication 
in the descending direction, i.e., the case in which God is the sender 
of the signs and man the receiver. As to communication in the 
ascending direction, i.e., from man to God, there is too immense a 
difference between the verbal type and the non-verbal type that the 
two cannot in any way be treated in the same breath. Let us begin 
with the communication from God to man. 

God is showing ‘signs’ at every moment, ayah after ayah, to 
those who have enough intelligence to grasp them as ‘signs’. The 
meaning of this, in the sense in which the Qur’an understands it, is 
that all that we usually call natural phenomena, such as rain, wind, 
the structure of the heaven and the earth, alternation of day and night, 
the turning about of the winds, etc., all these should be understood 
not as simple natural phenomena, but as so many ‘signs’ or ‘symbols’ 
pointing to the Divine intervention in human affairs, as evidences of 
the Divine Providence, care and wisdom displayed by God for the 
good of human beings on this earth. 

Just as a waymark must not cause a traveller to rivet his eyes on 
itself, but direct him towards a certain place which is the real 
destination of his travel, so every natural phenomenon, instead of 
absorbing our attention, as a natural phenomenon, and transfixing it 
immovably to itself, should act always in such a way that our 
attention be directed towards something beyond it. At this depth of 
understanding, a natural phenomenon is no longer a natural 
phenomenon; it is a ‘sign’ or ‘symbol’ — ayah as the Qur’an calls it. 
And this Something Beyond to which all the so-called natural 
phenomena point as ‘signs’ in the Qur’anic conception, God Himself, 
or more precisely, this or that aspect of God such as His 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Benevolence, His Power, His Sovereignty, His Justice, etc . 

The Qur’anic conception may be made more understandable by 
a comparison with the philosophical Weltanschauung of a modem 
Western philospher, Karl Jaspers who, interestingly enough, has made 
precisely this point one of the foundation-stones of his system. In this 
system much attention is paid to the problem of the symbolic nature 
of the world. According to Jaspers, we live at several different levels. 
When we leave the level of the normal, daily commonplace reason 
( Verstand ), at which natural things including man appear to our eyes 
simply as natural things, and step into the realm of Existenz , we find 
ourselves suddenly in a strange world, standing in front of God, 
whom he calls philosophically das Umgreifende meaning something 
infinitely great comprising everything from above. This All- 
Compriser keeps talking to us, not directly, but through the natural 
things. Things no longer exist here as natural, objective things, but 
they are symbols, through which the All-Compriser talks to us. 
Things at this stage are ‘ciphers’ ( Chiffer as he calls them) or 
cryptograms. So that the whole universe is represented as a big 
Chifferschrift , a book written entirely in cryptograms. In other words 
the world is a big book of symbols, a book which only those who 
live at the level of Existenz are able read. This would exactly 
correspond to the Qur’anic thought according to which all things are 
in truth dydt of Allah, and their symbolic nature can only grasped by 
those who have ' aql (intellect) who can ‘think’ (tafakkur) in the true 
sense of the word. 

Regarding the problem as to whether or not this usage of the 
word ayah originated by the Qur’an, we should remark that it was 
not certainly in the Bedouin tradition, that is to say, in the genuine 
Arabic language. As far as I know, there is no trace of the word 
having been used in a religious sense; it is always used in the natura- 
listic sense. This, however, does not seem to be true of the Hanlfitic 
circle. The poet LabTd, for example, who, as we saw, shows a 
markedly Hanlfitic coloring in both his diction and conception, has 
the following verse: 

^ 1 tUJl J> 

And water and fire (i.e., the rain and the heavenly lights such as the 
sun, moon and the stars) arc His (i.e. Allah’s) dydt. In them there is a 

Non-linguistic Communication 

lesson to learn for those who are not jdhil ( i.e those who are capable 
of thinking rightly ). 1 

I The problem, however, is not of central importance for our 

present purposes. What is more important is the semantic structure of 
the concept of ayah in the Qur’anic system itself. To this problem wc 
shall now turn. 

The Divine dydt as the Qur’an understands the word in a general 
sense, comprise as I said at the outset, both verbal and non-verbal 
symbols. The verbal type, i.e.. Revelation, is, in the nature of the 
case, much more precise than the other type, being essentially 
conceptual. It presents Divine Will in an articulate form. In other 
words, what God wants to convey to the human mind is here given 
analytically, one element after another, each element being given as 
much conceptual precision as possible. While in the non-verbal one, 
Divine Will is manifested globally, not analytically. And since in this 
latter case there can be no conceptual precision, the message con- 
veyed must necessarily be extremely vague and inarticulate. But the 
non-verbal dydt have one conspicuous advantage: they can be and are 
actually addressed to mankind at large without any discrimination; 
moreover they can be given directly without any intermediary, while 
the verbal type can be given directly only to one particular person, 
the Prophet, and only indirectly and mediately to mankind. All men 
are living in the very midst of the world of divine symbols, and these 
are accessible to anybody if only he has the mental and spiritual 
capacity to interpret them as symbols. 

Now, as we know already from what has been said in the first 
chapters of this book on the methodological principles of semantics, 
the semantical analysis of the concept of ayah in the Qur’an will 
consist in our trying to understand what it means in terms of the 
‘semantic field’ which this focus-word forms around itself. We have, 
in other terms, to examine the words of decisive importance — the 
key-words — that surround it in the Qur’anic contexts. 

For this purpose, the most important thing to remark is, in my 
view, the fact that, given the Divine dydt , whether verbal or non- 
verbal, the only possible human response is, according to the Qur'an, 
cidicr ‘acceptance or "rejection’ — tasdiq lit. “regarding and accep- 
ting, as true” or takdhrh lit. “regarding as false”. Man cither accepts 
the dydt as Truth (haqq) or rejects them altogether as Falsehood 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

(batil) having no reality behind them, mere products of fantasy and 
groundless imagination. And of course, tasdiq (acceptance) is the first 
step towards irnan (belief), and takdhib is the very gist of kufr, the 
only different being that the former pair ( tasdiq-takdhib ) is much 
more realistic and naked in conception than the latter pair ( iman-kufr ) 
which is a degree higher in scale of abstraction. In the Qur’an we 
witness tasdiq and takdhib as two opposite principles engaged in a 
fierce life-and-death conceptual battle with each other. And this is 
one of the basic oppositions which, as I said earlier, contribute 
towards producing that intense dramatic tension that reigns over the 
Qur’anic world-view. In this sense, the relation between tasdiq and 
takdhib must be considered the very axis around which revolves the 
whole semantic field, and which, therefore, assigns to each of the 
key-terms its proper place in this conceptual system. All this must be 
considered in more detail now. 

Let me begin by giving in a tabular form the general conceptual 
structure of the entire semantic field of ayah. 

The beginning of the whole thing is the Divine act of “sending 
down” ( tanzil) the ‘signs’. Without this initial act on the part of God, 
there could be no religion in the Islamic sense of the word. 

This Divine act, however, would remain barren and effectless if 
there were no man there to understand its profound meaning, as the 
Qur’an says: 

We have made clear to you the signs (ayat), if you can 

Ali ‘Imran, 3:114 [118] 

However much God calls men to the right path by showing them 
ayah after ayah, if all men were incapable of understanding the 
meaning of them like the Kafirs who are “deaf, dumb and blind and 
do. not understand”, 2 then the ayat could not work. 

The ayat begin to show their positive effect only when man 
shows on his part a deep understanding. Here begins the human side 
of the matter. And this very important human activity is expressed by 
a number of verbs (sec Table, Column 2) which designate various 
aspects of ‘understanding’. s* \ 



According to the Qur’an, this human act of understanding has its 
source in the psychological capacity called lubb or qalb (the ‘heart’) 
(Column 3). All the mental activities mentioned in Column 2 are 
nothing but concrete manifestations of this basic mental capacity or 
principle. The ‘heart’ is the very thing which enables man to 
‘understand’ the meaning of the Divine ayat. So, when this principle 
is sealed and covered and does not function properly man cannot 
show any understanding at all. 

And a seal has been set upon their hearts (qalb); so they cannot 

Al-Tawbah , 9:88 [87] 

The qalb (heart) is naturally made in such a way that it might 
understand the meaning of the ayat if it functions normally. What 
does it see in those ayat if it understands them properly? This is the 
problem of Column 4. It concerns the meaning of the Divine ayat 
that are revealed to an understanding qalb. For such a qalb they are 
mainly symbols of two things, that are diametrically opposed to each 
other. Some ayat symbolize the Divine Goodness, the infinite love, 
benevolence and clemency of God, while others symbolize the wrath 
of God, the imminence of dreadful punishment and vengeance. In the 
former case, the Divine act of showing an ayah — or rather, the 
transmisson of it through the Prophet to mankind — is called tabshlr 
(‘the bringing of good news’, ‘evangel’ in the etymological sense). 
In the latter case, it is called indhar (warning) or more nakedly, 
wa ( Td (threatening). Correspondingly, the same Prophet is called in 
the Qur’an sometimes mubashshir , a ‘bringer of good news’, and 
sometimes mundhir , a ‘wamer’. 

The next Column (5) concerns the human response to the ayat. 
The basic human response consists in either “regarding and accepting 
the ayat as true” {tasdiq) or “regarding them as totally false and 
nonsense and rejecting them” (takdhlb). This bifurcation of the 
human response to the ayat is very important because it is directly 
conducive to ‘belief or ‘faith’ on the one hand, and ‘disbelief on the 
other. The immediate consequence of this bifurcated human response 
together with its semantic structure, is shown in Column 6 of our 

N on-linguistic Communication 1 4 4 > 

synaptic table. When man accepts as true the Divine favor as 
symbolized by the ayat of the first category — [A]+[a] — the result is 
shukr (gratitude) [I] in religious sense. When he accepts also as true 
the ayat of the second category — [B]+[a] — it results in taqwa [11], 
which, as we have seen, means originally and basically the fear of the 
austere Lord of the Day of Judgment and His chastisement. When, on 
the contrary man regards [A] as false — [A]+[b] — the result is kufr 
[III]. As we know already, this is soon extended to [B]; then — 
[A] [B]+[b] — kufr acquires the technical meaning of ‘disbelief. 

At the final stage, represented by Column 7 in our diagram, [IJ 
and [II] united into one, and the concept of Man (belief) in the 
Islamic sense of the word is bom of this combination. And Man here 
stands opposed to kufr in the sense of [A] [B]+[b]. 

It will be evident that all this, beginning with the Divine act of 
sending down the ayat and ending with the human act of either belief 
or disbelief constitutes a coherent conceptual system. It forms a very 
compact network of associations, in which each one of the words is 
related to all other members of the network in a peculiar way, and 
each one of them is tinged and colored by being related to all others. 
The concept of ayah and its field furnishes also a good occasion to 
show by a concrete example what kind of a thing a ‘semantic field’ 
is, and how it is to be distinguished from a chance combination of 
words. A ‘semantic field’, of which we have here an ideal example 
before our eyes, is not a mere context, in which a number of words 
happen to be used together in a casual combination. 3 In a semantic 
field, nothing is casual; every combination within the field is essential 
in the sense that it represents an essential aspect of the 

This, be it remarked incidentally, should not be taken in the 
sense that all the words that belong in this particular field cannot 
enter into other combinations in other semantic fields. One and the 
same word may and usually does belong to several different fields. 
The word qalb is not exclusively the locus of tasdiq and takdhib\ it 
is the locus of a number of other mental activities. The word 'aqala 
does not exclusively and necessarily mean “understanding Divine 
ayat". But as long as it works within this particular field of ayat, it 
has a very particular and very important semantic coloring which it 
has acquired by being associated with all other members of this 

Non-linguistic Communication 


1 50 God and Man in the Qur’an 

system and influenced by the peculiar structure of the whole field 

This kind of semantic coloring is very delicate and subtle to 
grasp, but also extremely important in determining the meaning of 
word. The meaning of a word is not exhausted by its basic meaning. 
It has also a relational meaning and this latter always comes from the 
essential combinations into which it enters in a given system. 

II. Divine Guidance 

In the preceding section we have examined the general structure of 
the semantic field which forms itself around the focus- word ayah. 
The basic part of this semantic field may be described more briefly 
as follows: (I) God sends down the dyah\ (2) man responds to it by 
either accepting it as Truth { tasdiq ), or rejecting it as Falsehood 
( takdhib ); (3) the former naturally leads to ‘belief ( Tmdn ) and the 
latter to ‘disbelief (kufr). 



Diagram I 


This, however, is not the only semantic field of ayah to be 
found in the Qur’an. In fact, the Qur’an offers two different fields 
formed around the central idea of Allah’s sending down the ayat. The 
interesting point is that they do not exist in the Qur’anic 
Weltanschauung quite independently of each other as two separate 
fields, but are formed in such a way that they correspond exactly to 
each other as regards their basic structure. As far as concerns the 
abstract skeleton framework, both are almost exactly the same; only 
the same structure is used twice, being each time provided with 
different conceptual clothing produce two different semantic fields. 
And this formal correspondence between two sister fields reflecting 
one and the same piece of reality — the communicative activity of 
God, in our particular case — in two different ways is exceedingly 
important for our purpose, because, _here we see the Qur’an 

interpreting itself, so to speak, before our eyes. 

It is one of the characteristic features of this second system that 
the ‘articulation’ of the field is done in terms of a set of concepts 
which, unlike those used in the first system, have apparently nothing 
to do with communication. 








Diagram II 

Here the concept of ayat, to begin with, is replaced by the concept 
of ‘Guidance’ ( huda ). This would imply that God’s act of sending 
down the ayat is, according to the Qur’anic view, just the same thing 
as His guidance; the ayat are but the concrete expression of the 
Divine intention to guide mankind to the right path. And just as in 
the first system man could choose either tasdiq or takdhib, so in the 
second system man is free to respond to this divine act in one of the 
two possible ways, i.e., either by ihtida’, ‘following the guidance’ 
that has been offered or dalal, “going out of the right way” by 
refusing to follow the guidance thiat has been so graciously offered 
to him. And those who choose the first way are on the road to 
Heavenly Garden (jannah) while those who choose the second are on 
the road to Hell (jahannam ). 

All this is still only the first half of the whole picture. The 
second half is no less important than the first, and although at the 
Qur’anic stage the two are simply there existing side by side without 
apparently causing any trouble at all, they later begin to clash with 
one another, and, particularly in theology, end by standing in sharp 
unequivocal opposition. 

In this second version, the whole field is viewed from the 
standpoint of the Foreordination (qada’ wa qadar) which we have 
already examined in connection with the problem of the ontological 
relation between God and man. From this particular point of view, 
everything that happens on this earth is due ultimately to God’s Will. 
In this perspective, u man who takes the right way preferring ihtida ’ 
to dalal or who swerves away from the right way, by choosing daldl 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

instead of ihtida’, is not, in reality, choosing anything for himself by 
himself. His very act of responding to Divine guidance in either way 
is the necessary result of God’s Will. He chooses daldl or ihtida ’ not 
because he wills, but simply because God himself wills that he should 
do so. In other words both man’s ihtida and dalai, are equally due 
to Divine Will (mash f ah). Thus we read: 

sj — ~* Llo yj < U , a_ i CUl Lij y |j> 

Whomsoever God will. He makes him go astray, and 
whomsoever He will. He sets him on a straight path. 

Al-An ‘am, 6:39 

This second interpretation of the matter may be shown conve- 
niently in the form of a simple diagram (III). And if we compare the 
two diagrams (II and III) with one another, we will see immediately 
the fundamental difference between this and the first one. 

(God) (man) 


(goes to Paradise) 


j ah arm am 
(goes to Hell) 

The comparison will make it clear that in the second system, it 
is not the case, as it is in the first, that man responds to Divine 
guidance either with ihtida’ (being guided) or with daldl (going 
astray). Rather, he responds to Divine hudd with ihtida ', and to idlal 
(leading astray) with daldl (going astray). This is tantamount to 
saying that man, in this view, i§ no longer free to choose either 
ihtida’ or daldl, given Divine guidance. Everything would have 
seemed to be already fixed and decided from the very beginning. So 
man’s “going astray” is nothing but the direct and necessary result of 
God’s idlal (leading astray). And this Divine act of “leading astray” 
none can resist, in such a case, not even the Prophet himself can ever 
hope to lead anybody back to the right path, as the Qur’an itself 
repeatedly emphasizes. 

Non-linguistic Communication 


Thus we see in this second system, already at the initial stage, 
a basic opposition of hada (guiding) and adalla (leading astray) and 
this opposition runs through the whole system, so that we have here 
two lines running parallel to each other from the very beginning to 
the end. 

The existence of these two different ‘versions’ of one and the 
same ‘story’ and the contrast between them in the Qur’an could not 
but raise later among the Muslim thinkers grave problems regarding 
the concept of human freedom and moral responsibility. For once you 
adopt a strictly logical point of view, you must recognize the 
existence of a logical contradiction between these two systems. Only, 
the standpoint of the Qur’an is not that of pure logic; the Qur’anic 
thought unfolds itself on a plane which is essentially different from 
that of the logic of human reason. And as long as one keeps oneself 
on this level of thinking there can be no place for such a problem. In 
any case, the Qur’an itself did not raise the problem of human 
freedom in this particular form. 

Without going any further into the theological problem of human 
freedom and God’s justice, let us now turn to the inner semantic 
structure of the concept of Guidance, which is admittedly one of the 
most important concepts the Qur’an. We have seen above how the 
same field is conceptualized in the Qur’an in two different ways. But 
whichever system we take as basic, we meet with always the same 
conceptual opposition of ihtida ’ and daldl as soon as the human part 
begins. This is common to both systems. And this opposition of 
ihtida’ and daldl is to be found almost everywhere in the Qur’an; 
indeed the two constitute one of the commonest and most frequently 
used conceptual pairs in the Qur’an. 4 

■ , opposition 1 

(I) | ihtida’ 1 < ► <felat | 

"being rightly guided" "going astray" 

"regarding as false" 

As I have said before, this pair has its counterpart, in another 
semantic field, in the opposition of tasdiq and takdhlb as the two 
basic forms of human response to the dydt sent down by God. But 
the first pair (A) has something which distinguishes it definitely from 
the second (//). Unlike the latter, the opposition ihtidd\... daldl is not 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

conceivable without there being a more basic concept underlying it: 
that of ‘Way’. The concept of ‘Way’ is the ‘focus-word’ of the entire 
field. In other words, the concept of ‘Way’ plays in this semantic 
field the role which the concept of ‘sign’ {ayah) plays in the other. 
In the Qur’an, this concept of ‘Way’ is signified by various words, 
sabil, sirat, tariq being the most important ones. 

Likewise, ihtida ’ and dalal have each a number of synonyms. In 
place of ihtida’ are sometimes used, for example, rushd or rashad 
meaning “to enter on the right path”, qasd meaning “to take one’s 
way toward the right destination”. As to dalal (verb dalla ), many 
different words are actually used in the Qur’an as synonyms: ‘amiha, 
for example, which means “to wander about away from the right 
way” (ex. 2:14 [15]), qasata (“to swerve from the right way”) (ex. 
72:14-15), nakaba or nakiba with the same meaning (ex. 23:76 
[74]), 5 taha (“to get lost in the desert and wander in bewilderment”) 
(ex. 5:29 [26]), and ghawa, ghawiya (inf. ghayy and ghawayah), “to 
go astray” (ex. 7:143 [146]). 

It will be easy to see that there underlies all these concepts the 
very basic concept of Way. The problem is always: Does a man take 
the right way leading to his true destination, that is, God and the 
salvation of his soul, or does he deviate from it and wander about 
blindly in the desert of godlessness? But what is more important to 
remark is that the Way in question is not simply a way; the most 
decisive element in this image of Way in the Qur’anic conception is 
its being ‘straight’ (mustaqim). 

The Way which God indicates through His ayat is ‘straight’. 
This means in the Qur’anic context that if you but follow its line, it 
will lead you straight to salvation. And this straightness of the Divine 
Way stands in sharp contrast to ‘crookedness’ {‘iwaj) of all other 
ways. Crookedness means in this context that the way, instead of 
leading you to your destination, leads you away from it. 

Jy* 'jZ-X 

( God commands, saying:) This is My straight way, so do you 
follow it. Follow not other ways (subul pi. of sabil, with the 
implication that they are all ’crooked’) lest they scatter you 
away from His way. 

Al-An‘dm , 6:154 [153] 

Non-linguistic Communication 155 

So again we see two important concepts opposed to each other 
as two conflicting principles: ‘straightness’ and ‘crookedness’ in the 
semantic field of the Way-concept. It is evident that ‘straight’ and 
‘crooked’ are here value-words, for they stand for religious values, 

I one positive and the other negative. The opposition stands out with 
particular clearness because the Qur’an describes the Kafirs as cons- 
tantly trying to make the ‘straight’ way of God ‘crooked’. 

y* jill jjp Oj-WaJ 

Why do you try to turn away from the way of God those who 
believe, desiring to make it crooked (’iwaj). 6 

Ali ‘Imran, 3:94 [99] 

£ ^ « 0 y 0 ' , "» B £ $ J 0 - J * S' 

The curse of God is on the evildoers (i.e. the Kafirs) who turn 
(people away from the way of God, desiring to make it crooked! 

Al-A ‘rdf, 7:42-43 [44-45] 

As regards these concepts which, as we have just seen, constitute 
a large independent semantic field, we should observe that this latter 
was not at all a new field introduced by the Qur’an for the first time 
into the Arabic vocabulary. On the contrary, it was a very old field. 
It was already there in Jahiliyyah, it used to play no less an important 
role in Jahiliyyah, the only difference being that in Jahiliyyah its 
importance was ‘material’ while in Islam its significance lies wholly 
in its metaphorical application. 

For the people living in the desert, the problem of knowing the 
right way or getting lost in a vast tract of sand was naturally one of 
life and death. In those days each tribe had its own territory. Within 
the limited confines of the territory, no serious problem could arise 
concerning the right path to follow but once outside their own fami- 
liar territory, most of them were helpless; there they had to stand face 
to face with a vast, limitless expanse of sand full of ‘horrors’ 
(i ahwal ), which they often described — and must have really felt — as 
an uncouth monster ready to pounce upon them at any moment, and 
prey upon them. In such a situation it is quite understandable that the 

i JdhiH Arabs developed u whole set of conceptual network having 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

reference to huda and ‘way’. Many different kinds of way were 
distinguished, and the desert itself was named differently according 
as it had such and such a property or not: whether, for example, it 
had water or not, whether it was traversed by a clear plain road or 
trackless, whether it was a vast waste without any way — marks, etc. 
Thus, to give only one example out of many, the word yahma’ was 
used particularly for a dangerous desert in which it was absolutely 
impossible for anybody to tell where the right way was, an immense 
plain of sand with no beaten path. There was even a particular verb 
for walking at random in this kind of desert ('asafa): 

A man travelling in the desert without knowing the way (mu ‘tasif from 
‘ asafa ), alone ( i.e . separated from his companions), utterly 
unacquainted with the place . 7 

And a stupid man who fell into the habit of bringing trouble 
upon himself by stepping thoughtlessly into such dangerous places 
was called 'issTf (derived from the same root as 'asafa). An 
interesting combination of these concepts is found in al-ShanfarS’s 
famous Lamiyyah al- ‘Arab'} 

oixlii Ijl ^JiJl C-IJj 

I am not a man to get confused and perplexed in the darkness of night, 
when all of a sudden there looms right ahead a vast trackless desert 
and makes the thougtless fool lose his sense of huda . 

But the point is that all these words were understood chiefly in 
the most literal and material sense. The semantic field formed by 
words of this kind had no religious implication in Jahiliyyah. Take 
for example the word huda itself. It did not mean ‘guidance’ in the 
abstract sense; it meant more concretely “to show the way” parti- 
cularly in the desert. Hadi — which is the participial form of the verb 
hada (to guide) — in Jahiliyyah was a man with a specialized know- 
ledge of all the possible ways in the desert, whose profession was to 
lead men in the right path until they reached safely their destination. 
Desert was an extremely dangerous place, and even the professional 
guides could at any moment go astray. And it was the source of 
infinite pride and joy for a man to have^the consciousness that he was 
superior in this respect to the professional guides. ‘AbTd b. al-Abras 

Non-linguistic Communication 


in one of his peoms says boastfully: 

oGil Aj jGj IJLft 

0- C 

Enough! (Let us change our subject). Often an immense desert where 
even the professional guides ( hudat pi. of hadi) lose their way, its 
expanse stretching far, its sand looking like stripes on a Yemen robe, 
a limitless desert, I crossed on a tall stout camel . 9 

From this we see how vitally important it was those days for a 
man to be a good had! himself or at least to have an experienced and 
reliable hadi with him. In the Qur’anic world too, the concept of hadi 
occupies a place of vital importance. Only, in the Qur’an, the had T is 
God Himself, the Guide who never goes astray, who is therefore, 
absolutely reliable. Thus the Qur’an completely spiritualises the 
concept; it trasnfers it from the sphere of the most material aspect of 
human life to the level of the religious conception of human life. It 
was originally a concept relating to the experience of real travelling 
in the desert. Now in the Qur’an it is a religious concept relating to 
the course of human life metaphorically taken as a vast desert that 
man has to travel across. 

Quite naturally, the same thing happened to the concept of ‘way’ 
itself. Thus sirat 10 and sabil that are the most representative words for 
‘way’ in the Qur’an, are used evidently in a religious sense. The two 
are completely synonymous with each other in the Qur’an, and 
belong to the category of the key terms that go to determine the basic 
structure of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung. In pre-Islamic times too, 
the poets used these two words frequently, but always in a non- 
religious, material sense. 

To say the truth, it is not the question of a few key-words taken 
separately. The whole semantic field of Way acquires in the Qur’an 
a deep symbolic meaning. The Qur’an, to put it in another way, 
transposes the entire conceptual field, with all the individual words 
that form it, from the material level of thinking to the religious level 
of thinking, spiritualizes it, and makes the metaphorical system of 
concepts thus produced the very basis on which to build up its 
religious philosophy. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

III. The Worship as a Means of Communication 

As already remarked, communication between God and man, verbal 
or verbal, is not a unilateral, but a bilateral, reciprocal phenomenon. 
Corresponding to the verbal type of communication from God to 
man, which is nothing but Revelation, there is du'a’ ‘(personal) 
prayer’, conversation of the human heart with God, calling on God 
for His favor and aid, as the verbal type of communication in the 
ascending direction. In a similar way, the non-verbal Divine 
communication consisting in God’s sending down the non-verbal 
ayat, has a human counterpart in the services of worship and the 
religious exercises known in Islam as salat. In fact, salat or the 
Worship is susceptible of being looked at from various points of 
view. But from the particular standpoint of the present study, it is the 
non-linguistic variety of communication in the ascending direction, 
i.e. from man to God, for it is a formalized ‘expression’ on the part 
of man of the profound adoration which he feels in the' presence of 
the Almighty. Man, instead of merely receiving the words and signs 
of God in a passive way, is strongly urged and commanded to 
express positively his feeling of adoration through a cycle of physical 
acts in company of others who share with him the same feeling. 

Certainly salat contains some verbal elements," because besides 
the prescribed bodily movements, reading from the Scripture, reciting 
the confession of faith ( shahadah ), the benediction for the Prophet 
etc. , constitute an important part of the Worship. But we must remark 
that the verbal elements i.e., words, are used here in quite a different 
way from the words in personal prayers (du ‘a "), for in salat, they are 
used ritualistically; all the words assume a markedly ritualistic 
significance, while in du'a type of prayer, the words are used 
primarily for the expression ad hoc of strictly personal thoughts and 
feelings calling for expression at a particular moment. A man in his 
du ‘a, in short, really ‘means’ what he says. While in salat, the words 
he utters do not describe his own personal ideas, but are by nature 
symbolic in the sense that they form part of the ritual. The verbal 
elements in salat are not at all verbal in the ordinary sense of the 
word. Moreover, what is important here is the whole pattern of 
worship, which is something far more than verbal. It is, on the whole, 
a non-verbal way of communication from man to God; it is the 
human way of establishing direct contact with God through the 

Non-linguistic Communication 


prescribed form of ritual. 

With Prophet Muhammad, salat seems to go back, in spirit not 
in name, to his pre-Islamic days. All the important Hadiths agree in 
asserting that Muhammad, following the practice of some of the 
devout Makkans, used to go in temporary seclusion from the worldly 
affairs to a cave on al-Hira’ near Makkah every year for a certain 
number of days. And according to the traditional account, this had 
continued for several years before finally the Truth visited him and 
raised him as Apostle of God. In the Hadiths this is called tahannuth. 
Although the etymology of this word is obscure, it is fairly certain 
that it meant some devotional exercises. And perhaps we may 
consider it the pre-Islamic stage of the salat. 

Be that as it may, the salat, the ritual prayer or Worship, soon 
became one of the major institutions of Islam, and was given an 
exceedingly important place among the religious duties as a distinc- 
tive feature of the nascent Muslim community. It is not necessary 
here to go into the details of this institution . 12 Let it suffice to note 
that sujud (verb sajada), ‘prostration’, which is the very culmination 
of this type of worship, and which consists in the believer’s 
prostrating with his forehead touching the ground before the object 
to be worshipped, was known among the pre-Islamic Arabs as the 
form of expressing the deepest admiration heightened to the degree 
of adoration; The poet al-Nabighah, for instance, describing the 
enthralling beauty of a girl, says : 13 

Or (she may be likened) to a large virgin pearl, before which the diver, 
in a glee, lifts up his voice in adoration and prostrates himself. 

If such a girl showed herself to the eyes of a Christian monk with 
gray hair on his head, he would begin worshipping God {i.e. he would 
prostrate on the spot in admiration), even the monk who, unmarried, 
has spent all his life in pious devotion. 

As to the basic meaning of saldt we know that the verb salld 
generally meant "to invoke blessings upon someone” in both the pre- 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Qur’anic and the post-Qur’anic literature. 14 Here I give a very 
interesting example of its usage in pre-Islamic poetry. 

The poet al-A‘sha in describing how carefully wine is preserved, 


And (the wine-dealer) exposed it to the wind in a jar, then invoked 
blessings upon the jar and sought assistance from God (so that the wine 
might not turn sour). 15 

But far more important than this for our purpose is the fact that 
already in Jdhiliyyah the word was occasionally used to mean 
something which comes nearer to the Qur’anic concept of salat. 

Thus ‘Antarah in a poem which he composed in praise of the 
great Emperor of the Persian Empire Anushirwan has left this 
extremely interesting verse: 16 

All the kings of the earth pay homage to him from all places of the 
world (lit. from every valley-path); all people on earth turn their face 
towards him. 

The word imam as used in this verse is interesting. It means the point 
upon which your gaze is turned and concentrated. In this sense it is 
synonymous with one of the most important Qur’anic terms in the 
field of salat: al-qiblah which means technically the direction to be 
faced in public worship. Significantly enough, the same poet actually 
uses the word qiblah precisely in this sense in reference to the same 
Emperor Anushirwan: 17 

Qussad is the plural of qasid, “one who aims at something”, 
“one who intends to go towards something”. So the sentence 
means — addressing the Emperor — “Oh you the direction to which the 
gaze of all people is turned, Oh you crown of sublimity!” 

As is evident, here<he material content of saldt is different from 
the Islamic saldt, but the formal structure is the same; the only 

Non-linguistic Communication 


difference consists in the fact that here the qiblah, instead of being 
the direction of Makkan Shrine, is the imperial palace of the Persian 
Emperor, and the worship itself is the Imperial cult, instead of being 
the divine cult of Allah. 


1. Labld, Diwan XLII, v. 5. As regards the meaning of jahil, I shall give 
a detailed later (see Chapter 8). 

2. y (►£> 2:166 [171] 

3. Take for example the Qur’anic verse “They (Moses and his page) 

forgot their fish” (18:60 [61]). The combination of the two 

words ‘forgetting’ and ‘fish’ is quite casual. It is a mere context; it 
does not produce in any way a semantic field. Nobody would say that 
the verb nasiya (to forget) has acquired a special semantic from this 
particular combination. 

4. For example, 39:38 [37]; 2:170 [175], etc. 

Those who believe not in the Hereafter are deviating 
from the right way. 

6. 'iwajan for mu 'wajjatan. 

I. ‘AbTd b. al-Abras, Diwan XIV, 2. 

8. v. 19. 

9. Diwan XLI, vv. 12-13. 

10. A very old borrowing from the Latin strata (i.e. via strata, ‘paved 
way’) meaning the so-called Roman road. The word appears in the 
Diwan of ‘Abid al-Abras in the plural from surut meaning just 
ordinary roads. The Jahili Arabs, in so far as we can judge from their 
literature, seem to have lost all memory of this etymology. 

I I. “The Worship consists of ‘word’ ( qawl ), ‘deed’ ('amal) and ‘absten- 
tion’ ( imsak ). (viz. from the forbidden acts)” ^ — Q 3 y J5UJI 

al-Shafi‘1, al-Risdlah, §357, p.121. 

12. For such details, see E. E. Calverley, Worship in Islam, Madras, 1925. 

13. Diwdn, p. 52, v. 2; p. 54, v. 2. 

14. tS'jL J 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

9:85 [84]; 9:104 [103]; 33:42 [43] may be adduced as some of the 
Qur’anic examples. 

15. Cf. Lisan al-'Arab , p. 242; irtasama means “to pray to God for 
protection”, but according to Abu Hanlfah, the verb here means “to 
seal up the jar tightly”. 

16. DTwan , p. 164, v. 16. 

17. DTwan , p. 171, v. 8. 


Communicative Relation 
Between God and Man: 
Linguistic Communication 

I. God’s Speech ( Kalarn Allah)' 

The communicative relation between God and man in the Qur’anic 
view is, to repeat what has been pointed out several times, basically 
twofold: (1) from God to man and (2) from man to God. In the 
previous chapter we have dealt with the non-verbal type. As I said 
there, the verbal type which is going to be the subject of the present 
chapter, is in the last analysis but a particular case of the more 
general phenomenon of God-man communication represented in a 
typical way by the non-verbal category. This being the case, what has 
been said about the fundamental structure of the non-verbal 
communication applies in toto to the verbal one, as far as concerns 
the God-^man side of the matter. In other words, Revelation is nothing 
but a very particular case of the “sending down” of the ayat. Only, 
Revelation stands out so clearly and distinctly from all other forms 
of “sending down” that it demands to be treated separately as an 
independent category. And this is also the Qur’anic view on this 
question. In the Qur’an, Revelaton is given a very special place. It is 
treated there as something extraordinary, something mysterious, the 
secret of which cannot be disclosed to the ordinary human mind. 
Hence the necessity of the intermediary called ‘Prophet’. In this 
respect, the ayat which God sends down in this special form are 
wholly different from all other ayat, which are ‘natural’ and, 
therefore, accessible to any human being who is possessed of the 
normal capacity of ‘right understanding’. 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

We may point out as one of the most characteristic and 
distinguishing marks of the three great religions of Semitic origin, 
Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the view common to all of them that 
the very historical source, the ultimate guarantee, of the Truth of the 
religious experience of the believers lies in the initial fact of God’s 
having revealed Himself to human beings. And Revelation means in 
Islam that God ‘spoke’, that He revealed Himself through language, 
and that not in some mysterious non-human language but in a clear 
humanly understandable language. This is the initial and the most 
decisive fact. Without this initial act on the part of God, there would 
have been no true religion on earth according to the Islamic 
understanding of the word religion. 

It is no wonder, then, that Islam should have been from the very 
beginning extremely language conscious. Islam arose when God 
spoke. The whole Islamic culture made its start with the historic fact 
that man was addressed by God in a language which he himself 
spoke. This was not a simple matter of having “sent down” a sacred 
Book. It meant primarily that God ‘spoke’. And this is precisely what 
‘Revelation’ means. Revelation is essentially a linguistic concept. 

Now Revelation in this sense has, within the Qur’anic contexts, 
two different, but equally important aspects. One of them concerns 
its being a ‘speech’ ( kalam ) concept, in the narrow technical sense of 
the term ‘speech’ as distinguished from ‘language’ ( lisan ). The other 
has to do with the fact that of all the cultural languages that were 
available at that time the Arabic language was chosen by God by 
design and not by accident — as the Qur’an emphasizes in several 
places — as the means of divine speech. Using the Saussurian termi- 
nology we may distinguish between these two aspects by saying that 
the former is the parole- side, while the latter is the langue- side of the 
problem, kalam and lisan in Arabic being roughly equivalent to the 
French parole and langue respectively. Both of these aspects will 
come to have grave cultural repercussions later in the history of 
Islamic thought, the significance of which will be made clear as we 
go on. Let us first concentrate our attention on the parole-aspect 
of Revelation. 

We shall begin by remarking that Revelation, according to the 
Qur’anic conception of the phenomenon, is God’s parole : Revelation 
(wa/ 7 >’)=God’s speech ( kalam Allah). Far from being an arbitrary 
interpretation, this is actually the paraphrase which we meet with 

Linguistic Communication 


frequently in the Qur’an. And, as will be easy to imagine, the fact is 
very significant in regard to the subject of this chapter. Just one or 
two examples from the Qur’an may suffice to make this point 
convincing. Thus in Surah al-Tawbah we read: 

4^ r'X’c^. J- 1 fffcj i ^ %.{ *-0 

If anyone of the polytheists comes to you (O Muhammad) 
seeking thy protection as a client, make him thy client so that he 
may have the chance of hearing God’s speech (kalam Allah). 

al-Tawbah, 9:6 

Here it is contextually evident that “God’s speech” refers to what 
God has spoken and said to the Prophet, i.e., words revealed to him. 
Likewise in Surah al-Baqarah, in reference to the revelation of the 
Mosaic Law it is said: 

' > ' * ' « " o * 0 * i - 9 "£\ 

j jiji Oo -Uj (*SJ 1 O' 0 

a Jilt- li -Uj jiyC aLi 

Can you have any hope that they (i.e. the Jews) will submit to 
you when a party of them used to listen to God’s speech (kalam 
Allah), then changed it arbitrarily and consciously after they 
had understood it? 

al-Baqarah, 2:70 [75] 

The very possibility of turning ‘Revelation’ into a more analytic 
form of “God’s speech” shows most clearly that this phenomenon has 
semantically two different points of emphasis: (1) God and (2) 
speech. In other words, the concept has two bases on which it stands. 

When particular emphasis is put on the first basis, i.e., God, and 
the whole phenomenon viewed from that side, the concept of 
Revelation is signified by a certain class of words that cannot pro- 
perly be applied to any aspect of the ordinary and normal human 
speech behavior, like tanzil (sending down), wahy etc. Tanzil can 
never be used in reference to an occurrence of speech act between 
man and man, The ‘basic’ meaning of the word, in which, in this 
case, etymology makes itself felt with particular clearness, forbids it 

1 66 God and Man in the Qur’an 

to be applied except to supernatural communication. For the root 
from which the word, is derived, NZL, means ‘descending’, and 
tanzll, therefore, has the meaning of “causing (something) to go 
down”. As regards wahy, we may notice that it is sometimes used in 
reference to human communication, or indeed, for that matter, even 
to animal communication as often happens in pre-Islamic poetry, but 
even in such cases, the word can be used only when the commu- 
nication in question, whether human or animal, occurs in an 
extraordinary situation, and it is always accompanied by a sense of 
secrecy and mysteriousness. This point will be examined later in 
more detail, when we come to the problem of the meaning structure 
of this important word in the Qur’an. 

It suffices to remark at the moment that Revelation, when looked 
at from this angle, is not a speech act in the natural and ordinary 
sense of the word. And if we go a step further and place an absolute 
emphasis on this first basis of the concept, Revelation becomes a 
theological mystery incapable of being grasped by human analytic 
thought. The phenomenon of Revelation, in this respect, is something 
essentially mysterious, that does not allow of analysis; it is something 
only to be believed in. 

We should not forget, however, that the concept of Revelation 
has another and equally important basis, which renders it capable of 
being analyzed in a normal way. Revelation, as I have suggested 
above, is semantically equal to “God’s speech”. If, instead of putting 
an exclusive emphasis on the first constituent, we view the matter 
from the angle of the second element, we realize at once that Reve- 
lation is, after all, a kind of ‘speech’. Otherwise, the Qur’an would 
not have used the word kalam (speech) in describing Revelation. 

It is difficult, then, to resist the conclusion that, although, in so 
far as it is God’s speech Revelation is something mysterious and has 
nothing in common with ordinary human linguistic behavior, in so far 
as it is speech, it must have all the essential attributes of human 
speech. In fact, the Qur’an uses also other words in reference to 
Revelation, that are most commonly applied to ordinary, common- 
place products of speech: kalimah meaning ‘word’ for example, in 
Surah al-Shura: 

Linguistic Communication 1 67 

And God will wipe out the Falsehood and establish the Truth as 

Truth with his words. 

al-Shura, 42:23 [24 1 

Qawl is another word of this kind; it is evidently of the 
commonest of all terms relating to the human speech behavior. Qala, 
i.e. “someone said something”, is one of the words that have most 
frequently been used in Arabic from the earliest time of its history 
until today. The word qala is so commonplace that it needs almost 
no explanation. The word is there; and everybody understands its 
meaning. In connection with the topic under discussion, it is 
important to note that in the Qur’an God Himself often uses this 
word in reference to the content of His own Revelation. 

Thus in Surah al-Muzammil, God, addressing Muhammad, says: 


Verily, We are going to cast upon thee a weighty word! 

al-Muzammil, 73:5 

It should be noticed that here God refers to His own Revelation 
by means of a word which is the commonest of all words for human 
speech act, qawl, though, to be sure, it is qualified in this verse by a 
very strong adjective meaning ‘weighty’ or ‘heavy’ ( thaqil ). 

The conclusion to be drawn from this brief consideration is that, 
although revelation in itself is a phenomenon that goes beyond all 
comparison and defies all analysis, yet there is a certain respect in 
which we can approach it analytically and try to discover the basic 
structure of its concept by considering it an extreme, or rather, an 
exceptional case of the general linguistic behavior common to all 
beings that ‘speak’ at all. 

What makes Revelation such a particular non-natural kind of 
linguistic phenomenon is that in it the speaker is God and the hearer 
is a man. This means that speech occurs here between the super- 
natural order of being and the real order of being, so that there is no 
ontological balance or equilibrium between speaker and hearer. In the 
normal give and take of words, both the speaker and the hearer exist 
on the same level of being, standing on the footing of ontological 
equality. A human being speaks to and is understood by another 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

human being. There can be no linguistic communication between a 
man and, say, a horse, except as a metaphor, because, between a man 
and an animal, however intelligent the latter may be, there is no 
equality in regard to the level of being. The utmost that can be 
produced between the two partners in such a case is a non-verbal or 
extra-linguistic exchange of signs. The poet ‘Antarah offers an 
extremely interesting example regarding this problem. 

In the well-known verses of his Mu l allaqah-Ote^ he describes 
in a most touching and pathetic way his experience of such a non- 
verbal communication between himself and his horse. The intimate — 
almost personal, we should say — relation between the poet and the 
horse has been proverbial among the Arabs. 

In these verses ‘Antarah depicts the tragic death of his beloved 
horse on the battle-field. Already the horse is mantled in blood. With 
several spears stuck in the breast, the horse flinches and turns aside, 
being no longer able to spring forward toward the enemy. “Then he 
complained to me with gushing tears and sad whimpering. Had he 
but known what it was to exchange words, he would have described 
his pains, had he but known how to speak he would have spoken 
to me”. 2 

A man and an animal cannot communicate with each other 
linguistically for two closely related reasons: (1) lack of a common 
sign-system between them and (2) essential difference of an onto- 
logical nature. Stated thus abstractly, the same thing is true of the 
theoretic impossibility of verbal communication between God and 
man, for here too there is no common sign-system between the 
two, and an essential ontological difference separates them from 
each other. 

However, in the case of the Qur’anic Revelation, the first hind- 
rance regarding a common sign-system was removed by the fact that 
the Arabic language was chosen by God Himself as the common 
sign-system between God and man. But the second, ontological, 
hindrance was not of such a nature that it could be removed so 
easily. Hence the extraordinariness of this phenomenon. For here 
genuine linguistic communication does occur between two levels of 
being that are worlds apart and between which lies an infinite 
distance of essential separation. And yet God speaks to man, and man 
hears the words and understands them. And that is Revelation. How 
should we account for this extraordinary phenomenon? Or rather, 

Linguistic Communication 16^ 

how did the Arabs themselves of that age experience it and what kind 
of conception did they form for themselves of this strange happe- 
ning? That will be our main concern in the first half of this chapter. 

But before we begin to grapple with this difficult problem, we 
must try to analyze the original meaning of the word wahy, which is 
admittedly by far the most important of all words in Arabic denoting 
the phenomenon of Revelation. 

II. The Original Meaning of the Word Wahy 

Fortunately, the word wahy is one of those that are used repeatedly 
in pre-Islamic poetry, and this facilitates very much the analysis of 
the original, that is, pre-Qur’anic, structure of the concept. From 
various examples of its usage I would isolate as its essential semantic 
conditions the following three points. 

1 — It is ‘communication’, in the first place. In order to smooth 
the way for analysis, I would like to introduce at this point a new 
methodological concept: ‘two-person-relation word’, and begin by 
saying that ‘communication’ in general belongs semantically to the 
class of two-person-relation words. What does this mean? Let me 
first explain briefly what I mean by a ‘two-person-relation word’. 
The conception, as we shall see presently, plays an exceedingly 
important role in the analysis of the semantic structure of Revelation. 

In analysing word meanings in general, we find it often very 
useful to begin by paying attention to the ‘number’ of persons invol- 
ved, the word ‘person’ in this context being taken in the sense of 
dramatis personae. In other words, it is often important for us to 
know, as a first step in semantical analysis, how many persons — 
actors — should be there on the stage in order that the event denoted 
by the word might actually occur. This is of course restricted only to 
those cases where the idea of ‘person’ is involved in the basic 
structure itself of the meaning. A table is there, for example, for 
people to sit at, and books are there for people to read, but the 
meaning structure of ‘table’ or ‘book’ does not contain the idea of 
‘person’ as one of its primary and essential costituents. 

What I mean by a ‘two-person-relation word’ will be besi 
understood idler these general remarks, if one compares with each 
other the two simple sentences “I eat” and “I blame”. The verb in the 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


first sentence is a ‘one-person-word’ while the verb in the second 
sentence is a ‘two-person-relation word’. I have chosen intentionally 
the verbs ‘eat’ and ‘blame’, both of which are so-called ‘transitive’ 
verbs, to show that the semantical distinction we are now talking 
about is something apparently similar to, but in reality quite different 
from, the grammatical distinction between the transitive and the 

Both ‘eat’ and ‘blame’ are transitive verbs, and yet the former 
is a ‘one-person’ word, while the second is a ‘two-person’ word. In 
the case of ‘eating’, only one person is required to be on the stage. 
Of course, there may be more than one person, but that is something 
quite accidental and of only secondary significance as far as the basic 
semantic structure of ‘eating’ is concerned. There is one actor on the 
stage; he eats, and this is all that is required in order that there may 
be an occurrence of the verb ‘eat’. 3 This kind of words I would call 
‘one-person’ words. In the case of the verb ‘blame’, on the contrary, 
there must be two persons on the stage. The act called ‘blaming’ 
cannot in the nature of the case actually occur unless there are at 
least two persons. If there is no one else, the actor blames himself, 
if he does blame at all. And this is also, structurally, a two-person- 
relation, the actor playing a double role. 

Coming back to the word in question wahy, we observe, in the 
explanation, that it is a two-person-relation term. There must be, in 
other words, two persons on the stage in order that the event which 
is called wahy may actually take place. Let us call them A and B. In 
this process A acts actively (A->B), and the act itself is the 
transmission of A’s will by means of a sign or signs. And there can 
be here no reciprocity, that is to say, the relation, once established, 
cannot absolutely be reversed. It is strictly unilateral communication. 

2 — It is not necessarily verbal. That is to say, the signs used for 
the purpose of communication are not always linguistic, though 
words may also be used. 

3 — There is always a sense of mysteriousness, secrecy, and 
privacy. In other words, this type of communication is esoteric, so to 
speak. The communication is strictly a private matter between A and 
B. A makes himself perfectly clear to B, but to B only. There is a 
perfect communication between them, but it is made in such a way 
that the context of communication is difficult to understand for the 

With these three essential conditions in mind let us examine 
closely one interesting example, and see how wahy looks like when 
the conceptual structure just explained becomes materialized. The 
example is from one of the well-known odes of ‘Alqamah al-Fahl, a 
first-rate poet of pre-Islamic times: 4 

Qjloif ^ jso\y iii J ^yy 

The poet is here describing, with a pleasant touch of humor 
coming from personification, the homecoming of a male ostrich. This 
male ostrich has got far away from home in search of food. 
Suddenly, on a rainy and windy day, he remembers “his wife and 
children” — i.e. the female ostrich and the eggs whom he has left at 
home. The rain somehow makes him feel anxious about them, and he 
begins to run as fast as he can toward his home. He comes back and 
there he finds his family safe and in peace. Relieved of his anxiety, 
he begins to talk to his wife delightfully. He is saying something to 
her. What is he saying? No one knows besides themselves: it is a 
secret between the two. This is the situation which the poet is trying 
to convey. He says: 

The male ostrich is talking to her (yuhl , a verbal form corresponding 
to our wahy) with cracking sounds ( inqad , which is the ‘ostrich 
language’) and with naqnanah (an onomatopoeic representation of the 
‘cracking of the ostrich’), just like the Greeks talk with each other in 
an incomprehensible language ( taratanu ) in their castles. 

The word taratanu (for tataratanu) in this context is very 
important for our purpose. The basic verb ratana, of which 
tataratanu is a derivative form, consists semantically of two 
fundamental elements. One is the idea of the speaker’s being a 
foreigner, that is, a non-Arab, whose mother-tongue is some non- 
Arabic language. And the second is that it is completely incomp- 
rehensible to an Arab hearer. The derivative form taratana turns the 
combination of these two elements into a ‘two-person-relation’, with 
an additional idea of reciprocation so that it produces in our minds 
the image of foreigners talking with each other in some incomp- 
rehensible language. Whenever such a thing happened among the 
Arabs, quite naturally they got very suspicious. In the Musnad of Ibn 
Hanbal, one of the canonical collections of the Hadiths , for example, 
it is related that a young Greek was once seen talking to a Greek 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


woman married to an Arab “in their own incomprehensible 
language*’, 5 ‘and that this was immediately taken as conclusive 
evidence that there was a secret and illicit relationship between the 

In the light of this information, the second half of this verse 
would seem to give an important clue as to how we should under- 
stand the key-word in the first half, yuhf, that, in short, wahy. 
Suppose two persons are talking with each other in your presence 
with an air of intimacy in a foreign language which you do not 
understand. You are sure that between the two persons there is 
perfect communication of ideas and sentiments going on, but you 
cannot penetrate into the content itself of the communication, because 
you are an outsider. You are completely shut out from their intimacy. 
And this naturally arouses the sense of of witnessing something 

That the semantic structure of the word wahy contains an 
element of mysteriousness coming from incomprehensibility may be 
shown by another fact. In pre-Islamic poetry the word wahy is very 
often used to mean ‘writing’, ‘letters’ or ‘characters’. Thus Labrd in 
his Mu ‘allaqah- Ode, speaking of the remains of the old abode of his 
beloved, long deserted by the inhabitants, says that its trace has not 
yet been completely erased; it still remains “like characters” ( wuhiyy , 
pi. of wahy). 6 

Likewise al-Marrar b. Munquidh, a poet of the first century of 

‘fy ‘-d l^L. iSy) 

Now you see only some faint traces (of the old abode) just like the 
letter L in the writing of books. 7 

The Arabic lexicons usually give two different meanings to this 
word wahy : (1) revelation and (2) letters, as if there were no 
connection at all between the two. This view overlooks the very 
important fact that for the pre-Islamic Arabs, who were mostly 
completely illiterate, letters were something mysterious. We know 
how they were struck with astonishment by the strange — so they 
felt — South Arabian characters engraved on the rocks. It was the time 
when the word qalam (pen) still carried unusually grave and deep 

implications as is shown by the fact that the word occurs in one ol 
the oath-formulas which characterize the earliest Surahs of the 

By the Pen , and what they inscribe (therewith)?* 

Al-Qalam , 68:1 

Again, in another important passage, the same word appears 
assuming symbolic meaning: 

Recite: And the Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the 

Pen, taught man that which he did not know (before). 

Al-Alaq , 96:4-5 

The written letters were signs of something, all Arabs knew it 
very well. The written letters were there to convey some meaning, 
but most of the pre-Islamic Arabs did not know what those signs 
conveyed. They were to their minds something mysterious. 
‘Communication’ coupled with the sense of ‘mysteriousness’ — this 
was the connotation of writing at that time. Thus understood, the two 
allegedly different meanings of the word wahy are, far from being 
different from each other, just one and the same thing. 

In regard to this idea of mysterious way of communication 
conveyed by the word wahy, attention may be drawn to the existence 
of a very interesting example in the Qur’an. To be more strict, it is 
not so much a ‘mysterious’ as ‘non-natural’ way of communication. 
Still, in any case, the basic idea is the same. 

In the Surah Maryam, Zakariyya is made dumb and speechless 
for three days as a sign {ayah) of God’s special favor. There we read: 

' r* I* ' * 

Then he came out unto his people from the sanctuary and 
signified (awful, the same word as yuhi — wahy) to them: Glorify 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


(your Lord) morning and evening. 

Maryam, 19:12 [11] 

Under ordinary natural conditions the Qur’an might have used 
the word qala (“he said”) or amara (“he ordered”). But ZakariyyS is 
temporarily dumb; he cannot say anything. So he makes a signal to 
his people, not by words but by gesture. The purpose of commu- 
nicating ideas is achieved here in an unusual a way. This is what is 
implied by the word wahy in this passage. 

The example is interesting because it is an extremely rare case 
in which both A and B who are involved in the two-person-relation 
of wahy are human beings. Normally in the Qur’an, only one of the 
two persons, B, who receives the communication is a human being. 
A is God Himself. For example: 

jll Oi yy tjl 

in this respect. Quite exceptionally, God even “speaks” to Mosc^ 
directly — the word used being kallama. This word is a transitive 
verbal form of kalam, ’speech’ (parole) to which reference was made 
at the beginning of this chapter, and implies definitely a two-personal 
verbal relation between A and B. 

For instance, in the Surah al-A‘raf, 9 Moses goes up, alone, the 
Mount Sinai to meet God — one of the well-known Biblical scenes. 
There “the Lord spoke to Moses ( kallama-hu )” in complete seclusion 
from all other human beings. And in the Surah al-Nisa’, we read: 

» A a 

y y dll 

And Apostles of whom We have told thee before and Apostles 
We have not yet told thee. And unto Moses God spoke directly 
(kallama taklTman). 

Al-Nisa’ , 4:162 [164] 

And We — the speaker is God — signified (awhayna, from wahy) 
to Moses. Throw down your stick! 

Al-A’raf 7:114 [117] 

Similar examples abound in the Qur’an. It is important to remark 
that the wahy at this stage is not yet ‘Revelation’ in the proper, 
technical sense of the word. At this stage the word wahy is a 
synonym of ilham, (of a more general, non-verbal nature). The usage 
of the word wahy in this sense would suggest that God communicates 
His Will to a human being directly, putting no intermediary between 
them (A^B); only, this is done without any linguistic formulation of 
the thought. God, in this case, works upon.the human mind in such 
a way that the latter understands the will of God immediately. 
‘Revelation’ in the proper, Qur’anic sense, is, besides being a verbal 
process, something more than a simple two-person relation; it is a 
.three-person-relation, or even a four-person-relation. This we shall 
/ see presently. 

But before turning to this problem, it may be well to notice, in 
connection with the question of the direct two-person communication 
between God and man, that in the Qur’an Moses occupies a very 
unusual position. It would seem that of all the Prophets recognized 
as such in the Qur’an Moses is allowed to enjoy a special privilege 

In another passage, the same Sinai scene is described in a diff- 
erent way that is, in terms of different concepts: 

cUj yj y 

And We — the speaker is God — called to him from the right side 
of mount (Sinai) and let him come near in order -to have a 
personal talk with Him. 

Maryam, 19:52 [53] 

The verse here quoted is remarkable in that it uses two inte- 
resting linguistic concepts which, if interpreted rightly, would provide 
a clue to a very important aspect of the phenomenon of wahy. The 
two concepts of which I am now talking are nada and najiy. 

The verb nada is in meaning roughly the same as kallama, the 
only difference being that the concept signified by the former is spe- 
cially conditioned in terms of the space relation between A and B: it 
means, A speaks to B, A being in a far-off place. It means “to talk to 
somebody from afar”; there is always the element of a long distance 
involved between A and B in this concept. In this sense, it is the 
contrary of was was a (“to whisper into another’s ear”) which we shall 
discuss later Waswasa implies the shortest possible distance between 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

A and B. “Long distance between A and B naturally necessitates that 
A should speak in a loud voice, while in the case of waswasa, A 
speaks to B in a low muffled voice. 

Examples of nada abound in pre-Islamic poetry. Here I give one 
of them which seems to make the basic structure of the concept parti- 
cularly clear. 

When we go out hunting, we never try to deceive (animals) by wearing 
camouflage (i.e. the running-down of the quarry is so certain). On the 
contrary, we cry out from afar: Get on your horse ! 10 

As regards the second word najiy we must notice, first of all, 
that it refers the particular status of B in the A relation of linguistic 

communication. It means B as a person standing in a particularly 
intimate personal relationship with the speaker A. It is the ‘confidant’, 
to whom A can safely confide all his secrets and completely unbosom 
himself. This kind of confidential talk is called in Arabic munajat, 
which is derived from the same root as najiy. This is also specially 
conditioned in terms of the distance between A and B; the use of the 
word usually suggests that the speaker and the hearer stand very close 
to each other — hence qarrabna (“We let him come near”) in the 
Qur’anic text just quoted. 

All this would seem to suggest that Moses in this respect was 
given a very special divine favor. The Qur’an itself emphasizes very 
much this fact, as is evident from the Surah al-Baqarah, where we 


Those Apostles, some of them We have caused to excel others. 
Among them there is one to whom God Himself spoke (man 
kallama Allahu), and some there are whom He has raised in 


Al-Baqarah, 2:254 [253] 

dJ' (45 j* a*** 

It is in this sense that the later theologians called Moses kalim 
Allah , meaning thereby a man upon whom God bestowed a special 

Linguistic Communication 


favor by speaking to him directly. 

It will be worth remarking further that in this two-person (Aj_B) 
relation, if A happens to be not God but Shaytan (Satan or Demon), 
then the communication is not usually called wahy , but waswasah 11 
(whispering). But structurally these two are not entirely different 
from each other. Besides the difference in regard to the ‘distance’ 
between A and B , which we have seen above, the only main diffe- 
rence between them lies in the ‘source’ of natural communication: in 
one case it comes from God, while in the other it is Shaytan who 
happens to be the source of inspiration. Semantically, waswasah is 
contained as a small sector within the larger field of wahy . This is 
shown by the fact that the Qur’an uses sometimes the verb awha 
(wahy) exactly in the particular sense of waswasah. 

^-y ^ ijp 

Likewise We have appointed to each one of the Prophets an 
enemy — Demons , whether of humankind or jinn , who inspire 
(yuhf) in one another words adorned with false embellishments, 
beguiling one another. 

Al-An‘dm , 6:112 [113] 

i o]))> 

Verily, the Demons are inspiring (yuhuna) their companions (i.e. 
Kafirs) to dispute with you (i.e. Muslims). 

Al-An ‘ dm , 6:121 

Coming back to the word waswasah, it is worth noticing that, in 
the Qur’anic conception, the human soul itself plays sometimes the 
role of the Shaytan , as we see from the Surah Qaf, where we read: 

\j?y*y Lla1>- 

We created man, and We know what his soul whispers 
(tuwaswisu, from waswasah) to him. 

Qaf 50:15 |16| 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 

Usually in cases like this, the word connotes something myste- 
rious, said in a low, whispering tone, which deranges and agitates the 
mind and puts into it an alluring temptation. Al-A‘sha al-Akbar 12 uses 
the word in describing the clattering sound of bracelets and ankle- 
rings as the beautiful girl Hurayrah walks away gracefully, which 
entices him and stirs up in his heart an irresistible passion: 

J » j p> y. tiS"" cui lil 

You hear the tempting sound (waswas) of her ornaments as she walks 
away, a sound just like a rustling ‘ishriq-tree when the wind blows 
through its (leaves) [lit. when it ( i.e . the tree) seeks help from a wind]. 

Interestingly enough this verse of the great poet seems to 
respond to a Qur’anic verse, in which the pious Muslim women are 
admonished not to do anything that is likely to provoke men’s lust. 

* . '. •*// ( i * • f - ■» a - 

ufrO ot ^ j V: j 1 - 

Let them not stamp their feet so as to be known (i.e. so as to 

disclose) the ornaments (i.e. the ankle-rings) which they hide. 

Al-Nur, 24:31 

This is a very well-known verse and is often quoted in Islam as 
a ground for prohibiting dancing. The commentator al-BaydawT says 
that the clattering ( taqa'qu ’) of ankle-rings is likely to excite lust in 

Thus understood, the Qur’anic verse throws an illuminating light 
on A’sha’s description of Hurayrah, and consequently, on the very 
nature of the concept of waswasah. 

III. The Semantical Structure of Revelation 

I turn now to the Qur’anic concept of Revelation ( wahy ) in the 
proper technical sense, with a view to analysing it from the seman- 
tical point of view. This will be done by isolating one by one all the 
essential conditions under which the word standing for that concept 
is naturally and properly elicited. 13 

To put it in a more plain language: When and in what kind of 


concrete situation is the word wahy actually used in the Qur’an'/ 
What are the strictly necessary conditions which, when fulfilled, will 
enable one to use this word properly? To give a detailed analytic 
answer to this basic question will be the main task of this section. 

The first essential condition is the most general one. Revelation 
is a concrete speech behavior ( kalam ) which corresponds to la parole 
in the terminology of modem linguistics. The parole is, in Saussurian 
terminology, linguistic communication which takes place in a con- 
crete situation between two persons, one of whom plays an active 
role, and the other a passive role (A->B). And this is exactly what is 
meant by the Arabic word kalam. In this respect wahy is a partial and 
more particular concept falling under the general concept of kalam. 
And this implies that all the semantical conditions of the word wahy, 
which it will be our task to isolate, should be such as bring out the 
specific characteristics of wahy which contribute towards making it 
a particular concept within the wider field of kalam. 

Now in regard to this first condition, there are two important 
points to note; namely, first, that it is essential to any act of speech, 
that is, parole qua parole, that both A and B should resort to one and 
the same system of signs, which is, as we saw earlier, nothing other 
than what is called today in French langue corresponding to the 
Arabic lisan. In other words, in order that there might be an effective 
linguistic communication, A should speak the language which is 
comprehensible to B. In normal cases both A and B belong to one 
and the same language community. Otherwise, A should speak the 
language of B, or at least he should use some foreign language which 
happens to be comprehensible to both of them. In the Qur’anic 
Revelation, God (A) talks Muhammad (B) in B T s language, that is 
Arabic. The problems relating to the use of Arabic as the language 
of Revelation in Islam will be dealt with more fully in section IV. 

The second point is that it is essential that A and B should stand 
on the same level of being, that they should belong to the same 
category of being. In the case of Revelation — and here begins the real 
characteristic of the concept of Revelation — this basic rule is violated. 
For A and B, i.e., God and man, are quite different from each other 
with regard to the order of being. Here most evidently A and B do 
not stand horizontally on the same level of being. The relation is 
vertical: A stands above, representing the highest level of being, and 
H stands below, representing a far lower level of being. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 

I K I 

This ontological situation plays an exceedingly important part in 
the structure of the Qur’anic concept of Revelation. Let us, then, 
isolate this as the second essential condition of this concept and direct 
our attention to the special problems which it raises semantically. As 
I have said above, no linguistic communication can occur between A 
and B when there is this kind of ontological discrepancy between the 
two. In order that real linguistic communication might occur in spite 
of this basic rule of language, something extraordinary must happen 
to either A or B. 

This point has been cleaily grasped by some Muslim thinkers. 
Al-Kirmanl for instance, in his famous commentary on al-Bukkan’s 
HadTth-Collection says: 14 Revelation consistsin verbal communication 
between God and man. But theoretically no exchange of words (al- 
tahawur ), nor teaching (ta ‘ lim ), nor learning ( ta ‘allum) is possible 
unless there is realized between the two parties a certain kind of 
equality, i.e . 9 the relation (munasabah) of the speaker (al-qa’il) and 
the hearer (al-sami '). 

How, then, is such an extraordinary relation realizable between 
God and man? There are, al-Kirmanl replies, two possible ways: 
either the hearer ( B ) should undergo a deep personal transformation 
under the overwhelming influence of the spiritual force of the speaker 
( A ), or the speaker should come down and assume somehow the attri- 
bute of the hearer. 

And he adds that both cases actually occurred with Muhammad. 
The auditory type of Revelation in which, as we see in the HadTth , 
Muhammad is reported to have heard some strange noise like the 
ringing of a bell or the humming of bees, exemplifies the first cate- 
gory. While the visionary type of Revelation, equally mentioned in 
the HadTth and the Qur’an, in which he is related to have seen the 
heavenly Messenger or Angel, belongs to the second category. 

Opinions may differ on this last point. But in any case we must 
acknowldge that al-Kirmanl saw quite rightly the fundamental nature 
of speech, and that also he tried to interpret the fact of Revelation in 
terms of this basic principle. 

However this may be, it is certain that the particular kind of 
munasabah (relation) of which al-Kirmanl speaks can be established 
between a supernatural being and a man, if it is possible at all, only 
by a drastic transformation, a naturalization, we might say, of the 
personality of the man. Here something beyond his power, something 

against his nature comes to pass forcibly in himself. This causes him 
most naturally the keenest pain and torture, not only mental but also 
even physical. This happened to Muhammad in various forms. 
HadTths tell us of his intense sufferings, physical pains, the feeling of 
being choked at those moments. ‘A’ishah relates — and this is one of 
the most famous authentic HadTths about Revelation — “I saw him as 
Revelation came down upon him on an extremely cold day. His fore- 
head was running with beads of perspiration”. Other HadTths report 
that when the Revelation came, his face darkened; sometimes he fell 
to the ground as if intoxicated or swooning; sometimes he groaned 
like a camel-calf etc. 

Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah explains this phenomenon in 
this way. This physical pain, he says, is due to the fact that in this 
supernatural experience, the human soul which is not by nature 
prepared to experience such a thing, is forced to leave momentarily 
its humanity ( al-bashariyyah , ‘human-ness’) and exchanges it for 
angelicality (al-malakiyyah, ‘angel-ness’), and becomes actually for 
the time being part of the angelic world until it resumes its human- 
ness . 15 

But this is of course a theoretic or philosophical explanation of 
the phenomenon. This was not certainly the way the Arabs in 
Muhammad’s time approached the problem. Indeed the pagan Arabs 
had ready at hand a very convincing — of course to their minds — way 
of interpreting this kind of phenomena. 

We must keep in mind in this connection that we are as yet only 
at the second stage of our analysis. All we have established so far is 
that we have here a case of verbal communication coming from a 
supernatural being to a human being. Properly speaking, the problem 
of Who or What this supernatural being might be is not yet solved. 

Now, if we stop at this stage — and the pagan Arabs did stop al 
the stage and obstinately refused to go any further — and look at the 
matter from the JahilT point of view, then the whole thing would 
appear to be just the very familiar phenomenon of possession ( tajnTn ), 
which is, in no way peculiar to the Arabs or the Semites, but some- 
thing of the widest occurrence throughout the world and generally 
known in modem times under the name of shamanism. Some 
invisible supernatural being, whether a spirit or divinity, suddenly 
possesses an ecstatic person momentarily, and utters through him 
impassioned words, mostly in verse, which the man could never 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 

compose by himself in ordinary, i.e. non-ecstatic, moments. 

This phenomenon was extremely familiar to the pre-Islamic 
Arabs. For the kahin (soothsayer) was exactly this type of man who 
was able to be possessed at any moment by a supernatural force. And 
this was the sole form of verbal inspiration known to the pagan 
Arabs. The ‘poet’ ( sha ‘ ir ) also was, originally, this type of man. 

Let us first examine the concept of ‘poet’ in ancient Arabia as 
an ‘inspired’ man. In doing this we must bear in mind the very 
important fact that the pre-Islamic poetry which has been preserved 
and handed down to us is mostly the product of the latter JahilT 
period, when the Arabic poetry had already passed long ago the 
cruder stage of primitive shamanism. By the time Islam appeared the 
poetry had already been elaborated and refined to a very great extent 
into art, almost in the sense in which we usually understand the word 
today. The famous pre-Islamic poets, like Imr’ al-Qays, Tarafah and 
others were no longer shamans; they were rather real artists. 

And yet in their work there are some sporadic remains of the 
ideas belonging to the older stage, and particularly there is a branch 
of poetry called al-hija ’ — a kind of satirical poetry, which is based 
precisely on this primitive idea of word-magic . 16 

This hija- poetry, as was shown admirably well by Goldziher’s 
now classical work on this branch of Arabian poetry , 17 preserved 
even right into the Umayyad period the pre-historic shamanistic 
conception of poetry. Besides, we have also a huge amount of old 
oral traditions preserved in various books, which provide with 
valuable material for studying the Arab conception of the poet and 
poetry in the earliest, unrecorded times. 

What was poetry and what kind of man was a poet in the 
original form in Arabia? To make a long story short, the poet, as his 
very name sha'ir — it is a derivation from the verb sha'ara, or 
sha'ura meaning “to have cognizance of’, i.e., in this case, of 
something to which ordinary people have no access — implies, was a 
person who had the first-hand knowledge of the unseen world. And 
this knowledge of the unseen world he was supposed to derive, not 
from his own personal observation, but from constant intimate 
commerce with some supernatural beings, called Jinn. Thus poetry at 
this stage was not so much an ‘art’ as supernatural ‘knowledge’ 
derived from direct communication with the unseen spirits who were 
believed to be hovering around in the air. 

I K \ 

The Jinn did not communicate with everybody. Each had a 
special choice. When a Jinn found a man of his or her liking, he or 
she pounced upon him, threw him down to the ground, kneeled upon 
his chest, and forced him to become his mouthpiece in this world. 
This was the initiation ceremony of poetry. The man, from that time 
on, was known as a ‘poet’, in the full sense of the word. And there 
was established between the poet and the Jinn a particular kind of 
extremely intimate personal relationship. Each individual poet used 
to have his own Jinn who came down upon him from time to time 
to give inspiration. The poet usually called his Jinn his “familiar 
friend” ( khalil ). Not only that; the Jinn who came into such an inti- 
mate relationship with a particular poet was even known by a proper 
name somewhat like John or Mary. For instance the Jinn of one of 
the greatest pre-Islamic poets al-A‘sha al-Akbar had the personal 
name Mishal, the original meaning of which is “carving knife” — a 
name symbolic of his glib, eloquent tongue. This Jinn Mishal appears 
only in his poetry. 

Here I will give only one example , 18 which is particularly signi- 
ficant in connection with our present topic. 

iiJf 3>ii ^ ^ ^ ill 

r- 6^1 j A L*— * 

>-1 j — A N ^ ^ ^ 

The situation is somewhat like this. The poet is being attacked 
by an enemy poet. He must make a counterattack: otherwise he 
would not only lose face personally, but he would let his whole tribe 
suffer a defeat according the basic belief of the age. He feels irri- 
tated, impatient and uneasy, and somehow he cannot utter a word. As 
an excuse he describes his strange relationship with his Jinn , and says 
that he remains dumb and speechless in the face of his enemy, not 
because he is incompetent or ignorant but simply and solely because 
bis Jinn does not yet give him words. 

He says: M l am not an inexperienced debutant, 1 '* in the art of 
poetry but my situation is like this: whenever Mishal bestows upon 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

me the word I begin to be able to speak. Between us we are two 
intimate sincere friends; a Jinn and a human being who is naturally 
fit to him. If he only speaks (i.e. if he inspires me), then I will no 
longer be incapable of saying anything I would say. He suffices me 
so long as he is neither a tongue-tied one nor an awkward stupid 

It is important to note in this connection that 
this kind of demonic inspiration was always felt 
by the poet to be something “coming down” from 
above i.e., from the air. And for this aspect of 
poetic inspiration, the word nuzul (verb nazala, to 
come down”) was most generally used. 20 Thus, for 
example, Hassan Ibn Thabit 21 describes his own 
poetic experience in this way: 

' £ 9 , 9 fit*" ' ' 

y y J-*- ij-* 4u_j jj ( J_Jj J 

" " * - * 

Oft did a grave and heavy verse [the word qdfiyah does not mean, in 
a context like this, simply ‘rhyme’ or ‘rhyme word’ as it does in later 
Arabic, but it rather means words endued with a magical power by 
their being uttered in poetic form — a sort of incantation, like the word 
carmen in Old Latin] resound at night; oft did I receive it as it came 
down [lit: its coming down nuzul ] from mid-air. 

To this we must add another important point, namely, that in the 
most ancient days of Arab heathenism known to us the position of 
the poet in the society was extremely high. A real poet was an inesti- 
mable tribal asset in peace as in war. In time of peace he was the 
leader of the nomad tribe, because of the supernatural knowledge he 
got from his Jinn. The wanderings of the tribe in the desert were 
regulated by instructions given by the chief shaman-poet of the tribe. 
In this sense, in the majority of cases shd'ir was almost synonymous 
with qa 7 id (tribal leader). In war time he was considered to be even 
more powerful than a warrior because he had the supernatural power 
of disarming the enemy, even before the actual battle began, by 
curses and spells which he launched against the enemy in verse-form, 
and which, were believed to have far more terrible effects in bringing 
destruction and shame upon their target than arrows and spears. Such 
was the prc-Islamic conception of the poet although in the latter 
Jdhilf period just preceding the rise of Islam, the social position of 

A (Jinn) 

B (shair) 

Linguistic Communication IKS 

the poet was no longer so high. 

This makes us understand why the Prophet Muhammad was so 
often regarded by his contemporaries as a “poet inspired by a Jinn" 
(shd'ir majnun ), as we know from the Qur’an itself. 22 The pagan 
Arabs stubbornly refused to see anything in Muhammad which would 
distinguish him from a person possessed and inspired by a Jinn. In 
their eyes, here was a man who claimed to have a knowledge of the 
‘Unseen’ (i al-ghayb ), brought to him by a supernatural being coming 
down from heaven (nuzul). Whether that supernatural being be God, 
an Angel or a Shaytan , there was no essential distinction at all in 
their conception; all were Jinn. 

The Qur’an tells us that the pagan Arabs could hardly diffe- 
rentiate Allah from the Jinn. For instance, in the Surah al-Saffat we 

They set up between Allah and the Jinn a kinship. 

Al-Saffat, 37:158 

In other words, in their conception both Allah and the Jinn belong in 
one and the same family. 

Moreover, this man, Muhammad, showed in moments of pro- 
phetic inspiration evident signs of intense physical pain and mental 
sufferings. So here was, they thought, another shd'ir — a man posse- 
ssed by a Jinn ; 23 this was their natural immediate conclusion. 

That such was the most prevalent and most widespread view 
among the pagan Arabs the Qur’an gives ample evidence. The very 
fact that the Qur’an stresses constantly that the Prophet Muhammad 
has nothing at all to do with demoniac possession, that he is not a 
man “possessed by a Jinn' is in itself the strongest evidence that sudi 
was the actual situation at Makkah. 

Turning now to the Qur’anic view of the matter, we may 
observe that, from the standpoint of the Qur’an, the pagan Arabs whe 
took Muhammad for a ‘poet’ committed a double mistake: first, b> 
confusing the Almighty God with an inferior being, Jinn , anci 
secondly by confusing a Prophet with a poet possessed by a Jinn. 

According to the Qur’anic view, the real source of Prophetic 
inspiration (T) is not a Jinn but Allah. And there is between these 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


two an absolute reference, for Allah is the Creator of the whole 
world, while the Jinn are merely created beings ; 24 and they, just like 
ordinary human beings, will be brought forth before God on the Day 
of Judgment to be judged , 25 and Hell will be filled both with men and 

In the second place, there is also an essential and absolute diffe- 
rence between a Prophet and a poet. A poet is by nature an affak : 26 
what he says is sheer ifk , a word which does not necessarily mean a 
‘lie’, but something which has no basis of haqq (reality) or ‘truth’, 
something that is not based on haqq. An affak is a man who utters 
quite irresponsibly whatever he likes to say without stopping to 
reflect whether his own words have some real basis or not, while 
what a Prophet says is Truth, absolute haqq and nothing else . 27 So 
that the A-+B relation of prophetism, although it bears an outward and 
formal blance to the A^B relation of shamanism, has an essentially 
different structure from the latter. 

The word majnun (possessed) among the Arabs of that age was 
applied to still another type of man: kdhin to which reference was 
made earlier. We must now turn to this second concept. 

Kdhin (soothsayer) was also a man possessed by Jinn , who 
uttered non-natural words under demoniac inspiration. Kdhin had 
much in common with sha Hr. Indeed, the more we go back to the 
ancient times the more difficult does it become to distinguish one 
from the other. After all, both were manifestations of shamanism, and 
in origin they must have been one and the same thing both in their 
nature and in their social function. And yet historically, there seems 
to have been some important points of difference. 

Kdhin , in Jahiliyyah , was a man with occult powers, who 
exercised those powers as a profession, and received freely hono- 
rarium for his services, called hulwdn. At least in the latter JdhilT age 
as we know it from the old traditions, the kdhin- ship was almost a 
social institution. He was interrogated on all important tribal and 
inter-tribal problems. He acted as an interpreter of dreams, he was 
asked to find lost camels; he served the tribesmen not only as a 
medical doctor but also as a detective in matters concerning crimes 
committed in society. 

However, far more important from a linguist’s point of view, 
was a stylistic feature which distinguished a kdhin from a shd'ir. The 
kdhin always gave his uttcrcnccs in a particular rhythmic form known 

as saj \ Opinion is divided as to whether this was the earliest form ol 
poetry among the Arabs. Most probably it represents the prc-poelic 
form of expression: it is a form of expression which lies between 
regular poetry and the prose of ordinary daily conversation. Real 
Arabic poetry begins with rajaz, and saj ' is a stage just preceding it. 

Saj* consists in a sequence of short pregnant sentences, usually 
with a single rhyme. And this was the most typical style of inspi- 
ration and revelation in ancient Arabia. All speech-act that had its 
origin in the unseen powers, all speech-act that was not a daily 
mundane use of words, but had something to with the unseen powers, 
such as cursing, blessing, divination, incantation, inspiration, and 
revelation, had to be couched in this form. 

The word itself saj ' (corresponding to Hebrew shag j 
etymologically and originally meant the cooing of pigeons and doves. 
And it was associated with the purring sound of the Jinn ’s voice. The 
Prophet Muhammad himself, in a HadTth going back to ‘A’ishah, 
describes the impression produced by the kdhin s utterance as the 
clucking of a hen : 28 “He (the Jinn) clucks (yuqarqiru) into the ear of 
his companion like the clucking (qarqarah) of a hen”. 

As an example of this style, I will give here the very well- 
known prophecy uttered by a famous kdhin Satlh , of whom it is said 
that in moments of demoniac seizure he folded himself up like a 
garment so that his whole body appeared to be boneless except his 
skull . 29 

effj You see a black charcoal 
illh 'j* hSr'j* coming forth from the darkness of night 
jLJf jpf j cJtjjj And it alights on a land sloping towards the sea 
JT oir u And devours everything that has a skull 

This piece of saj ' is said to have meant the impending invasion 
and conquest of Yemen by the Ethiopians. When pressed by the king 
of Yemen as to whether this prophecy was true, the same soothsayer 
is related to have uttered the following words, also in saj ' form. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

i j fs-Wj By the evening twilight 
ijLjJIj By the darkness 
jUhj By the dawn 
ijL \i\ When it breaks bright 30 

s * 2 

jiJ aj ihllil G j; Verily what I have told you is truth 

This one example will make it sufficiently clear that the saj‘, as 
regards its form, was a kind of rhymed prose very close to real 
poetry by the repetition of rhyme, but different from poetry in not 
having meter in the sense of measures syllables. We may notice also 
that the saj‘ style of the kahin was characteristically marked by 
strange oath-formulas, conjurations of nature, of which the second 
piece gives us some examples. 

Both of these features, i.e., the repetition of rhyme which gives 
often the sense of haunting beauty, and the conjurations of nature are 
characteristic of the early Surahs of the Qur’an. Is, then, the Qur’anic 
style fundamentally saj'l In some passages the Qur’anic style seems 
to satisfy in every respect the basic formal norms of saj‘, while in 
others particularly in the later Surahs the usage of rhyme words 
deviates so far from the standard norm of saj‘ that we can hardly 
recognize there the ordinary saj ‘-form. But what is far more 
important from the Qur’anic point of view is the content itself of the 
message conveyed, and not the form of expression which conveys the 

However, the pagan Arabs contemporary of Muhammad did not 
look at the matter in this way. Instead, most of them stuck to the 
stylistic point of view, and took Muhammad for a kahin simply 
because of the formal, stylistic characteristics. The Qur’an of course 
denies emphatically the Prophet’s being a kahin : 

'Jj 2L j 

By the grace of thy Lord thou (Muhammad) art neither a 
soothsayer nor man possessed by a Jinn! 

Al-Tur, 52:29 31 

Linguistic Communication 

1 X‘l 

We are now in a position to examine from our particular point 
of view the third — and the most important — feature which 
characterizes the structure of the Qur’anic concept of Revelation. In 
the Qur’an, Revelation as a supernatural linguistic event is a thrce- 
person-relation concept, which makes it structurally something 
entirely different, not only from ordinary human speech, but also 
from all other types of verbal inspiration having Jinn as its source. 

We must begin by calling to mind that both in the case of sha ‘ir 
and that of kahin, the A^B relation is essentially a two-person- 
relation. A, i.e., a Jinn establishes a close personal relationship with 
B, i.e., a human being: so close is this personal relationship that the 
Jinn who possesses the man speaks through the latter. There is no 
intermediary between them. We might even say that in moments of 
demoniac seizure, the Jinn and the man are completely united into 
one person. And this is the phenomenon which we generally know 
under the name of shamanism. 

This does not apply to the Qur’anic conception of Revelation 
which is, as I have just said, a three-person-relation. There was, in 
other words, in Muhammad’s prophetic consciousness always some- 
body, some mysterious being between God and himself, who brought 
down Divine Words to his heart. So that the basic structure of 
Revelation in the sense in which the Qur’an understands it is like 

A~> M~> B 

We have to go on to examine this structure further in detail. 
According to the Qur’an itself, there are only three possible types of 
verbal communication from God to man. The three types are clearly 
stated and distinguished from each other in the Surah al-Shura, where 
we read: 

^ f a1)I a^I5kj 01 ft*- ) 

" / f. s s ", * ^ K. I * ' ''l * * * f 

It is not for any man that God should speak to him except by 
wahy, or from behind the veil (min ward 7 hijabin) or by God s 
sending a messenger (rasulan) to communicate (yuhiya) by His 
leave what He wills. 

Al-Shurd, 42:50-51 [51] 

God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 



So the three different manners of Revelation are: (1) mysterious 
communication, (2) speaking from behind the veil, and (3) the 
sending of a messenger. 

The first type is not elucidated in this verse, and, strictly 
speaking, we are left in the dark as to what is meant in concrete 
terms. But the word wahy would seem to suggest that the reference 
is to that sort of direct communication which, as noted above, was a 
special divine favor bestowed upon Moses to the exclusion of all 
other Prophets. 

As to the second type, the expression used — “from behind the 
veil” — suggests that there does occur a verbal communication (not a 
simple ‘inspiration’ or ilham); only the hearer in this case does not 
have any vision of the speaker himself. But, although nothing is 
visible to his eyes, the Prophet has the clearer consciousness of there 
being somewhere in close vicinity a mysterious being who speaks to 
him in an extremely strange way. I think we can supplement our 
knowledge about this phenomenon by some important informations 
from the Hadfth . 

In a very famous tradition 32 going back to ‘A’ishah, it is related 
at al-Harith b. Hisham having once asked the Prophet saying, “O 
Apostle of God, how does the revelation come to you?”, the latter 
replied, “Sometimes it comes to me like the ringing of a bell (mithla 
salsalati al-jarasi ). And this is the most painful manner of revelation 
to me; then it leaves me and I have understood (wa ‘aitu) from that 
noise what He (God) meant to say”. 

Attention must be drawn to the use of the perfective aspect 
(wa ‘ aitu , “I have understood”) in the last sentence, a fact which is 
quite significant in this context as Ibn Khaldun pointed out long ago. 
What Muhammad is trying to convey thereby seems to be that while 
he is actually receiving Revelation he does not have the consci- 
ousness of hearing any intelligible words spoken; all that he hears is 
something like a mysterious, indistinct noise (i dawiyy ), but the 
moment it ceases and he himself returns to the level of normal human 
consciousness he realizes that the noise has already transformed itself 
into distinct meaningful words. 

The reading “like the ringing of a bell” (mithla salsalati al- 
jarasi) is not so certain as it is usually assumed. The last word, al- 
jarasi (“the bell”) may very well be read also as al-jarsi\ then the 
phrase would mean “like some low and distinct sound”. Besides, 

there are several other variants: “like the noise of the beating of some 
metal”, “like the flapping of the wings of a bird”, etc . Still, what is 
meant is always some mysterious, indefinable sound. 

Then comes the third type, that of verbal communication by 
means of a special messenger; here Muhammad not only hears the 
words spoken, but actually sees the speaker. And it is to this third 
type that the remaining half of this Hadlth refers. There we read: 
“and sometimes — the Prophet goes on saying — the Angel appears to 
me in the form of a man and speaks to me, and in this case 1 
understand (a 7) immediately what he says”. We must notice that here 
the verb (wa 'a) 9 which has occurred in the perfective aspect (wa ‘aitu) 
in the first half of the passage, now appears in the imperfective 
aspect (a 7). This suggests clearly that in this case, and in this case 
only, Muhammad hears real words spoken. 

Apparently Muhammad was not only an auditory type of 
prophet; he was also a visual type. He had many visions at critical 
points of his prophetic career. And in the Qur’an itself, in two 
different places reference is made to the appearance of the Mighty 
Being who transmitted to him Allah’s words. One is 53:1-8, the other 
is 81:15-25. 

In the former the Divine messenger is described as shadld al- 
quwd (“One terrible in power”) i.e., a being glorious and majestic, 
who stood straight in the highest part of the horizon, then drew near 
and approached till he was at the distance of two bows or nearer, and 
transmitted the Divine message. The second passage also gives a 
similar picture. 

This majestic and mysterious being who made himself visible to 
Muhammad and transmitted to him the Divine words was at first, i. e . , 
in the Makkan period, simply called by the symbolic name of ruh al- 
quds (‘Holy Spirit’). 

1 jLa\$ 

Say: the Holy Spirit has brought it down [ nazzala , a verbal form 
corresponding to tanzll] with truth from thy Lord , to confirm 
those who believe and to be guidance and good tidings to those 
who have surrendered (muslimin). 

Al-Nahl , 16:104 [102] 

* ■ '"'it " m v * * * 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 

It is also called al-ruh al-amin, the ‘Trustworthy Spirit’: 

yy ^ py * 

4 jit** 

And verily this is a revelation [tanzil lit. ‘sending down’] of the 
Lord of the Universe, which the Trustworthy Spirit has brought 
down upon thy heart so that thou (Muhammad) mayest be one 
of the warners, in clear Arabic language. 

Al-Shu'ard, 26:192-195 

At the same time it is strongly emphasized that it is not an 
inspiration coming from the Jinn (26:210-21 1 — the word al-shayatin, 
Satans, being synonymous in this kind of context with Jinn.) 

Later, in MadTnah, this ‘Holy Spirit’ comes to be identified as 
the Angel Gabriel 33 (Jibril or Jabril). And in many of the authentic 
Hadiths, the Divine messenger who brought down Revelation to 
Muhammad is said to have been from the very first Jibril. 

So if we are to stop at this stage of analysis, we should simply 
say that the Revelation is a three-person verbal relation, A *M y B, in 
which the initial point is Allah, the final point is the Prophet, and the 
middle term is the angel Gabriel. And yet, to say the truth, we should 
not stop at this stage, because our analysis of the concept of Reve- 
lation has not yet reached its end. We must go further into the fourth 
stage of analysis. 

At the fourth stage, the very purpose of the Divine Revelation 
is the main problem. As we have just seen, God reveals His will 
through a heavenly messenger to Muhammad. But Muhammad 
himself is not the final point. Revelation does not aim at the personal 
salvation of Muhammad. God does not speak to Muhammad in order 
simply to speak to him. The Divine words should go beyond 
Muhammad: they must be transmitted to others. In ordinary cases of 
speech act (A-+B), A speaks to B, and the speech stops when it reaches 
B; if the speech is to continue, as a dialogue, then the same process 
reversed, B, the original hearer becoming now speaker and saying 
something back to A, the original speaker (A <~B); this is the structure 
of the usual kalam. While in our particular case, B must in his turn 
become speaker not in the reversed, but in the same direction- — or 


more correctly, transmitter of what A has told him. Here arises the 
problems of tabligh or balagh (transmission). And B is called rasul 
(apostle) or ‘messenger’ precisely in the capacity of the transmitter 
of the Divine words. 

Viewed in this light, the concept of Revelation in Islam is not 
a three-person-relation: it must, in reality, be considered a four- 
person-relation concept (A-+M~*B^C). According to the Qur’an itself, 
this C was historically the people of Makkah at first, then the Arabs 
as a whole, then all the so-called People of the Scripture, and then 
finally the whole mankind. B is not simply a man who receives 
Divine Revelation; he is a man who receives it and then transmits it 
to the people. In this sense, just as the angel Gabriel was a 
messenger 34 (rasul) sent by God to Muhammad, Muhammad himself 
is now a rasul Allah (God’s Messenger), acting as an intermediary 
between God and the world. 

O'* Aj — “J ^ fj) pj \j' 

opL n u ^ ,&fj fa yJr/J'j + 

O my people, there is no error in me, but I am a messenger 
(rasulun) sent by the Lord of the Universe. I convey (uballighu) 
to you message of my Lord . 35 

Al-A'rdf 7:59-60 [61-62] 

'fajJd t jJd t 

js. df \ piu fa- 

Know that the sole duty of Our messenger is to convey (al- 
balagh) clearly (the Divine words). 

Al-Ma’idah, 5:93 [92] 

Many other examples could be given, but the idea is so clear 
that it is not necessary to do so. 

Linguistically this opens a very interesting and important prob- 
lem. Since B is the transmitter of what A has said, B must memorize 
and transmit A’s speech word by word. It must be conveyed to C 
exactly in the words and phrases in which it has been given. Not 
even the slightest change or omission is permissible. In other words, 
the Divine words, when they reach and arc received by B, must form 
an objective entity, an objective linguistic work — a sprachwerk , as 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


the Germans would say. The Divine words as an objective 
sprachwerk in this sense are called qur’an. The word qur’an, 
whatever its etymological meaning may be, means in this context a 
piece of Divine Revelation as an objective entity. Of course the 
whole body of the individual qur ’ans may also be designated by the 
same word, and this is evidently the most usual sense in which the 
word Qur’an (or more popularly Koran) is understood now. 
However, this was not its original meaning. 

In any case it is the most important duty or function of a 
Prophet to keep in memory the revealed text literally so that he may 
convey it to his people without altering even a word. If any modi- 
fication occurs, then the Prophet may be accused of having comm- 
itted the grave sin of tahrlf which means ‘turning round’, Twisting’, 
‘falsification’ (the verb being harrafa), although it is particularly the 
case when the modification has been done intentionally. In the 
Qur’an we see the Jews constantly accused of having “intentionally 
twisted” the revealed words. 36 

Revelation in the technical sense of the word differs essentially 
in respect from the non-technical, or pre-technical, concept of wahy 
which I explained above. There, as we saw, ‘revelation’ — if we can 
use this term legitimately in such a case — is a kind of prompting to 
action. It may not be verbal: the man who receives inspiration in this 
sense may not have a clear consciousness of the exact words and 
phrases that have being spoken to him. The main point is that he 
should understand the idea itself and act in accordance with it. 

Take for example the following verse: 

LiTj ^5* 'iti jll O' y 

And We revealed (awhayna) to Moses: “ Throw down thy rod! ” 
And (he threw it down), lo, it (immediately changed into a snake 
and) swallowed up what they (i.e. the Egyptian magicians) had 

Al-A ‘raf, 7:114 [117] 

As we see, God simply commanded Moses to cast his staff and 
he cast it accordingly. The sole purpose of wahy here is to prompt 
certain action; it is a kind of imperative. The words themselves do 
not count. The purpose of wahy once achieved, it is no longer 

necessary for the words to remain permanently, as a sprachwerk. 

In the case of Revelation in the proper, technical sense, every 
word and every phrase should remain permanently as an objective 
sprachwerk. Muhammad himself was keenly conscious of the extreme 
importance of keeping in memory, while he was receiving revelation, 
the exact words and phrases as they were being given. This is clearly 
reflected in the Qur’an. In the Surah al-Qiyamah, we see Muhammad 
admonished not to move his tongue in haste to follow the revealed 
sequence of words. 37 For there is danger, in doing this, of 
Muhammad’s forming unintentionally in advance the words that are 
about to come, instead of waiting calmly and quietly until the 
revelation comes to an end. But it is clear that this haste or 
impatience on Muhammad’s part was due to his prophetic 
consciousness that he should not forget even a single word. God 
Himself assures Muhammad in the same passage that He will take 
care of everything, so that all Muhammad has to do is wait until the 
revelation assumes a definite verbal form, and follow its wording 

And this is one of the reasons why from the point of view of 
Islam the Qur’an is ‘inimitable’ ( mu'jiz ). And this constitutes the 
famous problem of the ‘inimitability of the Qur’an’ (ijaz al-Qur ’an). 
Ibn Khaldun explains the point in the following way. The Qur’an 
occupies a unique position and stands alone among all the divine 
books, because here we have the text of revelation in its original 
form while in the case of the Torah and the Gospel, he says, the 
prophets received the revelation only in the form of ideas, which 
they, after they returned to the normal state, formulated and expre- 
ssed in their own words. — We must observe in parentheses that this 
is not wholly true, because in the Hebrew prophetic books there arc 
preserved some revelations in verse-form in their original wording, 
as they were given to the Prophets. But as a whole this is true, 
because the bulk of the Old Testament text is a work of professional 
writers. — Hence all the heavenly books, Ibn Khaldun concludes, with 
the sole exception of the Qur’an, do not have ‘inimitability’. 

The word nabiy, as I have said, means, with regard to that 
particular aspect which is directly related to the concept of Reve- 
lation, a man specially chosen by God Himself to receive Revelation 
to the exclusion ol all others, to make a sprachwerk out of it by 
memorizing the original wording to the minutest detail, and then to 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


transmit it to his community. 

As to the origin of this Arabic word itself, the Western scholars 
unanimously maintain that it is a borrowing from the Hebrew nabhl’. 
Here we seem to detect a confusion of ‘word’ with ‘concept’. It is 
true that the particular connotation of transmitter of Divine Reve- 
lation was something completely foreign to the Bedouin Arabs, who 
had no idea at all of what Revelation was and in this sense it 
certainly belonged to the circle of the monotheistic ideas, that was 
historically bound up with a long Biblical tradition; and so it is but 
natural that the word nably should not appear in the pre-Islamic 
poetry of the Bedouins. But this should not be taken to mean that the 
word itself is a direct borrowing from Hebrew. The word nably, in 
both its formation and its root meaning, belongs to the genuine 
Arabic stock. The root NB’ goes beyond Arabic far back into the 
Semitic antiquity with the meaning of ‘anouncing’ and ‘proclaiming’. 
However this may be, the etymological question is of a secondary 
importance for our purpose. What is much more important from our 
standpoint is to know whether the Qur’anic concept of nably 
coincides completely with the Biblical concept of nabhl \ 38 And for 
this purpose we must push our analysis a step further. 

When we, trying to isolate the characteristic features of the 
Qur’anic concept of ‘Prophet’, examine it carefully from the 
semantical point of view, we find two points standing out as worthy 
of special attention. These two points are both of a negative nature. 

One of them is that the Arabic nably has essentially nothing to 
do with prophecy or prophesying in the sense of future-telling. A 
nably , in the Qur’anic conception, is not a foreteller of the future. 
The root from which the word nably has been derived, NB \ has, as 
we have just said, certainly the meaning of ‘announcing’, ‘giving 
news of something’ and yet it is not towards the future that the 
concept faces. In the Qur’an, the news brought by a Prophet is 
always news of the ghayb (the unseen world of God). The Prophetic 
activity is always centered around transmission of the Divine Will. Of 
course in a certain sense, the detailed description of Hell and Paradise 
that will be disclosed to the eyes of mankind on the Day of Judgment 
may be said to be a prediction of the future. But this is far different 
in nature from a description of some impending and imminent event 
which is about to happen to a definite person or definite nation as 
often happens with the Hebrew prophets seeing beforehand what will 

come to pass in the future; this is not at all part of the function of the 
Arabian nably. But this was not so easily understood by 
Muhammad’s contemporaries, as is evidenced by the very fact that 
he was on many occasions asked by various men to predict future 
events, great and small. In the minds of those people, the concept ol 
nably seems to have been still vaguely associated and confused even, 
with the old traditional concept of kdhin . 

The second of the negative characteristics of the semantic struc- 
ture of nably is that the words he speaks or conveys have nothing to 
do with magic. This is an extremely important point, because it is 
perhaps from this angle that we can distinguish most appropriately 
the Islamic concept of Revelation from all manifestations of the 
Arabian shamanism, like poetry and oracles. 

In pre-Islamic times, the saj* which was the style of all inspi- 
ration, and rajaz which was the first poetic form developed from the 
saj \ both of them are mainly used for purposes associated in some 
way or other with word-magic. In those ancient days, words uttered 
in measured lines and with recurring rhymes were believed to be 
endued with strong magical powers. The Prophet Muhammad himself 
recognized, according to many Hadlths , the very real power the 
rhyme possessed. As a matter of fact Muhammad was greatly helped, 
in his campaign against the pagans, by his favorite poet Hassan ibn 
Thabit who stood in high estimation among the Muslims precisely in 
this capacity, despite all that the Qur’an says disparagingly about 
poets and their low moral standard. It is related that Muhammad once 
remarked to this poet: 

"* ? 9 a' s t, is f-o' 

Your poetry is much more dangerous to our enemy than arrows shot 

in dark of night . 39 

Poets, in short, were venerated and dreaded in pre-Islamic times 
chiefly, if not solely, because of the magical release of supernatural 
power they commanded against their enemy, whether personal or 

There is a certain respect in which the poetic use of language 
presents a striking similarity, both in nature and structure, to the 
prophetic speech which I have described above, for in the ease of a 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 

poet as in that of a prophet, the word uttered should form an objec- 
tive entity — a sprachwerk. The words he utters should be memorized 
exactly as they fall from his lips and transmitted to others in the 
original form. Springing from a supernatural source, his words also 
should go beyond him (A-+B-+C). But launched against C, the poet’s 
enemy, his sprachwerk is no longer a linguistic phenomenon in the 
proper sense of the word; it is rather a magical phenomenon; the 
poet’s speech is here a magical force that works upon C, binds him 
up, and destroys him. 

The same was true of the jay ‘-style of soothsayers. As a true 
poet could handle rajaz poetry in a destructive way, so a real 
soothsayer was able to handle saj '-prose in such a way that he could 
mortally wound his enemy by the magical power of the rhyme. The 
magical words uttered by a competent soothsayer are often compared 
in old Arabic literature to deadly arrows shot by night which fly 
unseen by their victims; the verb most frequently used in such 
contexts is rama which means ‘shooting’. They are also compared to 
sharp, cutting spears that are poisonous, that inflict wounds from 
which the victims can scarcely hope to recover. What made these 
rhymed words most dangerous was that these curses and counter- 
curses, once released, had an uncontrollable activity of their own, and 
nobody, even the poet or the soothsayer himself who had released 
them could restrain the malignant and destructive forces thus 
released. The qawafi once said exercised an enduring and unrestrai- 
nable magical power. 

It is evident that the Qur’anic Revelation had nothing at all to do 
this kind of release of magical power. Saj ', as we have seen, had two 
different aspects in the pre-Islamic age: it was, on the one hand, the 
language of inspiration: all supernatural inspiration, whatever its 
source, took linguistically this form. It was, on the other hand, a 
particular use of language for releasing the magical power contained 
in the words. This second aspect completely disappears in the 
Qur’anic usage of the rhyme-words, al-qawaft. I have already shown 
on several occasions 40 that in the Qur’an many of the old pre-Islamic 
words and concepts are used with entirely new connotations; they 
have been adjusted to an entirely new conceptual framework. Old 
concepts arc there, but they have undergone a drastic semantic trans- 
formation by having been put into a new system of values. Some- 
thing similar happened to saj': the old traditional form of 

1 99 

supernatural communication is used, but it is used as a vehicle for 
conveying a new content. This is my answer to whether the Qur’anic 
style is saj' or not, and if it is, then how we should understand this 
fact in terms of the fundamental difference between Jdhiliyyah and 
Islam. The form is still there; but it is now a pure form of super- 
natural inspiration. It is not used for the purpose of releasing the 
magical power of words, nor is it a form in which to couch 
‘prophecy’ in the sense of foretelling future events. 

IV. Revelation in Arabic 

In what precedes we have been concerned with the parole aspect of 
Revelation, that is to say, with the problem of the Qur’anic concept 
of Revelation as a ‘speech’ phenomenon. It is time now we turned to 
its langue aspect. 

Langue is, as already noted, a system of verbal signs recognized 
by common consent as the means of communication among all indi- 
viduals belonging to one community. It is in this sense a social fact, 
fait social as defined by Durkheim in his sociology. It is a symbolic 
system peculiar to a community, to which every member of the 
community must resort in talking with others if he wishes at all to 
make himself understood. There can be no linguistic communication 
less the two persons involved in speech ( kalam ) resort to the same 
system of signs. 

The Qur’an shows the clearest consciousness of this fact, and it 
possesses most evidently the concept of language understood in the 
sense of this modem technical term langue. The Qur’an bases its 
conception of Revelation and prophetic mission on this very idea. It 
starts from the recognition of the fact that each ‘people’ ( qawm ) has 
its own langue, and it attaches a great significance to this fact in 
regard to the phenomenon of prophetic mission. Thus in the Surah 
Ibrahim we read: 

We never send an Apostle except with the language (i.e. langucj 

of his people, so that he might make the message intelligible. 

IbrdhTm , 14:4 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

As the peoples of the world differ in color, so they differ in 
language. 41 And no adequate understanding, i.e., communication, is 
possible where there is no common language. 42 

And, we are told, this is why an Arabic speaking Prophet is now 
sent to Arabs with an Arabic Revelation: 

We have sent this down as an Arabic Qur'an (qur’anan 
‘arabiyyan) that you may understand . 

Hajj, 22:2 

■^4* r Jv— ^ ^ 0 P ^ j 4ji^ 

^ ^ " * / / 

Verily this is the revelation of the Lord of the Universe, which 
the Trustworthy Spirit (i.e. Gabriel) has brought down upon thy 
heart, so thou mayest be one of the warners, in clear Arabic 
language (bi lisanin ’ arabiyyin mubinin). 

Shu’ara’, 26:192-195 

Just as Moses was given a Book in his language, so now the 
Arabian Prophet is given a book in the Arabic language 43 
(i lisanan ’arabiyyan). 

For if God made His revelation in some non-Arabic language, 
then the people would never believe, there being no understanding 
at all. 

dJUaj I y. '■ f ju ole. J* aLl* >- y . yv 



If we had made it a Qur’an in some non-Arabic language 
(a ‘jamiyyan) they would say: Why are not its verses made intel- 
ligible? Is it non-Arabic (a’jamiyyun) and Arabic (‘ arabiyyun )? 
(i.e., a non-Arabic revelation given to an Arabian prophet?). 

Fussilat, 41:44 

Likewise if God should reveal this Arabic Qur’an to a non-Arab 
prophet and let him recite it in Arabic to his people, who arc of 

Linguistic Communication 20 1 

course incapable understanding it, they would never believe in him 

•>al ji3 f I AilJjj jJj 

^ ^ * L ' y 1 ' L. ^ ^ *lc 

Had We sent this down upon some non-Arabian (prophet), ana 

had he recited it to them (in Arabic), they would not have 

believed in it. 

Al-Shu ‘ara ’, 26:189 [199], 

All these verses are, as we see, based on the view that each 
community has its own language, and that there is an inseparable tic 
between a community and its language. And this is tantamount to 
saying that the Qur’an has the concept of langue in the modem 
technical sense of the word. This concept is in the Qur’an signified 
by the word lisan (tongue). 

The Qur’an itself gives a sure indication that a malicious rumor 
was being circulated among the Arabs at that time that the Qur’an 
was not a divine revelation, that, in reality, there was a man 
behind Muhammad, a man versed in the Jewish and Christian 
scriptures, who was teaching him what to say under the name of 
Revelation. Al-Tabar! mentions several Christian slaves of foreign 
origin whose names were on the lips of the Kafirs who were 
spreading this rumor. 44 

However — the Qur’an argues against this accusation — the native 
language (lisan) of the man to whom they attribute all this is non- 
Arabic (a’jamf), while this is a clear Arabic language (lisanun 
’arabiyyun mubmun), the implication being that anyone whose 
language is not Arabic would be absolutely incapable of teaching 
Muhammad what to say in pure Arabic. 

This and some other verses which I have just quoted have 
brought to our attention a very important word a’jamf. We will do 
well to discuss this problem in terms of the basic contrast between 
‘Arab and ‘Ajam. In the eyes the ancient Arabs all the peoples of the 
known world were divisible into two categories: the Arabs and the 
non- Arabs. In the latter category all the non- Arab peoples known to 
them were simply lumped together without any distinction. These two 
concepts were not exclusively linguistic, because blood, i.e. race, also 
played an important role, particularly in the concept of ’Arab. But 
the most decisive factor was undoubtedly language. This is evidenced 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


by the fact that even a man of pure Arab origin, if he was not able 
to speak Arabic properly, was very often called ajamf. 

This, by the way, has led some of the authorities to the view that 
there is a fine distinction between ajamf (or ‘ajam) and ‘ajamf. The 
former means, according to this view, a man who is incapable of 
expressing himself correctly and clearly, even if he be a real Arab 
racially, while the latter means a man, who racially belongs to a non- 
Arab people without any regard as to whether he speaks Arabic well 
or not. However not all lexicographers agree to this view. 

In any case, it is certain that in Jdhiliyyah the root ‘JM had a 
very wide range of application. The basic meaning seems to have 
been the extreme obscurity of one’s speech, whether it is just a 
temporary casual state or a permanent state due to one’s being a 
foreigner. The following verse by al-Husayn b. al-Human is very 
interesting in this respect. 

And they said: Observe well, can you see between Darij and the rainpit 
of Akuff anyone crying for help that is not voiceless (a jam)l 4S 

Here ajam means a man who has lost his voice as a result of 
having been crying for help so long and in vain. And of course this 
extreme obscurity of speech, when it goes to its utmost limit, 
coincides with perfect silence. And the verb istajama was used just 
for this meaning. 

We have for example in the Hadfth : Istajamat ‘alay-hi 
qira’atuhu 46 which means literally “His reading or recitation (of the 
Holy Book) became silent against him” i.e. the man was overcome 
by drowsiness while he was reciting the Book and could not continue 
reading it. This usage of the verb is also very old, and examples are 
found in pre-Islamic poetry. 

Finally, the idea of linguistic obscurity may take another direc- 
tion: animals, cattle and the brutes are called ajam . I will give only 
one simple example from the Hadfth : al-'ajma’u jurhu-ha jubarun 41 
The word al- ‘ajmd ’ is the feminine form of a jam , meaning bahfmah 
(‘animal’). The meaning of the Hadfth itself is: As to the brutes, 
injury (including death) caused by them is jubdr (/.&, bloodshed 
which docs not deserve punishment): that is to say, no vengeance 

should be taken for any injury caused by the brutes. 

These examples will be enough to show that anybody, or 
anything that is incapable of speaking in a proper human way is 
ajam. This also shows at the same time that the term ajam or ‘ ajam 
was originally a pejorative term: in other words, it implied a 
disparaging and contemptuous attitude on the part of the Arabs 
towards those who could not speak Arabic, which was in their eyes 
the richest, the most beautiful, and the most perfect language in the 
whole world. To be unable to speak this perfect language was, for 
them, almost equivalent to being bom speechless. 

The same depreciating attitude towards peoples incapable of 
speaking Arabic underlies the usage of the onomatopoeic word 
timtim , which is often used in reference to the language of the Abys- 
sinians (timtim habashl , “an Ethiopean Timtim” or tamatim sud , 
“black Timtims”). 

It is surprising that in the midst of such a world the Qur’an took 
a fair and impartial attitude towards this problem. It did not see any 
natural superiority of the Arabic language over non- Arabic languages. 
It is true that by the rise of Islam a really unique position was 
assigned to Arabic as the langauge of Divine Revelation. But this was 
not, properly speaking, intended to be the open declaration of the 
superiority of Arabic. Nor is there, for that matter, a declaration in 
the Qur’an of the racial superiority of the Arabs. For the famous 
verse quoted above (3:106 [110]) which runs, “You are the best 
community that has been raised up for mankind” can only refer 
contextually to the religious community of Muslims as distinguished 
from other communities of the People of Scripture and not to the 
Arabs as a nation. 

The Qur’anic view of this problem is based on the very clear 
cultural consciousness that each nation has its own language, and 
Arabic is the language of the Arabs, and it is, in this capacity, only 
one of many languages. If God chose this language, it was not for its 
intrinsic value as a language but simply for its usefulness, that is 
because the message was addressed primarily to the Arabic speaking 
people. We see the Qur’an itself declaring again and again that this 
Book was revealed in Arabic simply in order to facilitate the under- 
standing. “Wc have sent this down in Arabic so that you might 
understand" ( 12:2). 

And this corresponds to the more general Islamic attitude 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


towards the problem of racial difference. In the very famous Surah 
49:13 as well as in Muhammad’s farewell speech it is explicitly 
stated that in Islam all men, whether Arabs or non-Arabs, are 
perfectly equal. 

Where does this fundamental Qur’anic attitude come from? In 
order to account for this seemingly strange fact we have only to 
recall what was said above regarding the cultural situation in which 
the Arabs were living at the time when Islam was bom among them. 

Arabia at that time was not a closed world; on the contrary, it 
was an open world in lively contact with other peoples speaking 
different languages with widely different cultural traditions. 

Roughly speaking, the Arabs of that age may be divided into 
two different categories or types: one was the pure, genuine Bedouin 
type who lived in a closed society, conservative, traditionalist, 
reluctant to admit anything new into their mode of living and mode 
of thinking, and the other was a more enlightened sort, widely open 
to other forms of life and thought than their own, ready to accept or 
even ready to go out of their tribal society in search of new and 
higher cultural values. 

The first type of Arabs were the real children of the desert, 
living strictly within the narrow limits of the tribal structure of 
society, living in the tribe, with the tribe, and for the tribe. The very 
basis of their sentiments, emotions and thoughts was essentially tribal. 
Of course even they had to come into close contact with foreigners 
if only for the reason that the wine-dealers were mostly Christians, 
Jews and Persians, and they were people who could not imagine life 
without wine-drinking, and we know from their poetry that they were 
familiar also with the devout and meditative life of the Syrian 
Christian monks who lived here and there in the midst of the desert 
and whose solitary lamps lit in the darkness served as guides to 
travellers by night. And yet on the whole the Bedouins were far more 
concerned with themselves than with other nations. Their interest was 
almost exclusively centered around their tribal affairs. 

Compared with this genuine Bedouin type, the second type was 
a far enlightened one — the class of cosmopolitans of that age. And 
the Jahiliyyah produced a great number of them, among whom we 
find some of the greatest names in the history of Arabic literature 
like LabTd, al-A‘sha, al-Nabighah, etc . 

Of course, these were also, at bottom, tribal Bedouins as regards 

their mode of life, their mode of thinking, and mode of reaction in 
general. So it is but natural that we should find them sharing with the 
first type many, or even most, of the mental traits which may be 
considered typically Bedouin. And it need cause no surprise if wc 
find also many border-line cases, or overlapping areas between the 
two classes. Thus, to take one telling example, the poet al-Nabighah, 
who displayed a genuine Bedouin-ness in his thinking and expression, 
was also an outstanding figure in this second class. 

And yet, as a whole, there is one remarkable feature which 
draws a clear line of demarcation between the purely tribal Bedouin 
type and the cosmopolitan type. Those who fell under this second 
category lived on an international level: they had a mind open to all 
the foreign cultures and peoples that surrounded them, that had even 
infiltrated deep into the Arabian Peninsula. They were the intellec- 
tuals of the age, who breathed an enlighened air, and whose 
intellectual horizon was not at all limited to the narrow confines of 
Arabia; they left their souls free to be influenced culturally by the 
surrounding peoples with a far higher degree of civilization. They 
had enough curiosity to venture into unknown worlds, leam new 
ideas, and assimilate them. Unlike the first type, their minds were not 
at all confined to the tribal matters. 

We see a typical example of this category in the poet al-A‘sha 
al-Akbar who travelled all through the peninsula from North to 
South, went over its border and visited Jerusalem and Homs, went to 
Iraq, and even crossed Iraq into the Sassanian Empire of Persia and 
brought back from there a number of Persian words and concepts, 
which he put into his poetry together with some Christian ideas 
which he had learned from the people of the kingdom of Hlrah. He 
was so much interested in, and influenced by, the things he saw 
outside of Arabia that he almost became a Christian in his view of 
life and world outlook. He seems even to have travelled to Ethiopia 
in search of new ideas. 

The state of affairs just described will make us understand 
why, contrary to our naive expectation, we do not find in the Qur’an 
a declaration of the natural superiority of the Arabic language. The 
Prophet Muhammad as a man belonged to this second type of Arabs, 
and the Qur’anic outlook over the surrounding world was also 
evidently of this second type, for it was based on the recognition of 
the existence of various nations and various communities on the 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 


earth. The spirit of the Qur’an, in this respect, was a definite and 
daring break with the old tribal spirit so characteristic of the 
Bedouin Arabs. 

The world in which the Prophet began to develop a new 
religious activity was not a closed tribal society; it was an open world 
of lively cultural contact and cultural competition among a number 
of different nations. The level of cultural consciousness on which the 
Qur’an worked upon the religious feeling of the Arabs was much 
higher than that of the Bedouins of the desert. 

We must recall in this connection the above-cited verses 48 of the 
Qur’an, in which a deep distrust is manifested in the Bedouin 
mentality as regards religious matters. 

In other places we are told that the Bedouins are the most 
difficult people to handle in the matter of religion and belief. They 
are stubborn, obstinate, haughty and arrogant; and the vainglory pre- 
vents them from acquiring the virtue of humbleness which, however, 
is the very gist of the religious mind as Islam understands- it. 

All the evidence, in short, points to the fact that the cultural and 
spiritual sphere in which the Arabian Prophet lived and worked was 
essentially different from, and even diametrically opposed, in certain 
important respects, to the world in which the Bedouins lived. The 
Bedouins of the desert stood far below the level of cultural 
consciousness at which Islam addressed itself to the Arabic speaking 
people. And on this high level of world conception, the Arabs were 
after all but one among many different peoples, and the Arabic 
language, too, was one of many different languages. 

Thus we see why the Qur’an, in spite of the constant emphasis 
it places on its being in Arabic, does not consider itself a manifesto 
of the superiority of this language. Each community has its own 
language. So when God sent down His Revelation to the Israelites in 
the form of the Torah, He chose Hebrew as the vehicle of His 
message, because it was the language of that community. The same 
is true of other Revelations sent to other nations: each people of 
Scripture had their own kitab in the language of the community. 
Likewise, all Messengers who were raised before Muhammad 
addressed each of his people (qawm) in their particular language. So 
it is now with Muhammad. Since he is primarily an Arabian prophet 
and Arabian apostle he is sent with a kitab in Arabic. Otherwise, 
there would be no reason why the Arabic language should be 

preferred to other languages. 

This central idea of the Qur’an was quite in keeping with the 
broad world outlook which I have just described in some detail 
However this was not the way in which the Arabs, or to be more 
correct the Arab Muslims, understood the whole matter. The evident 
fact that nowhere in the Qur’an was the superiority of Arabic per se 
stated was simply ignored by them, who had always been so proud 
of their Arab-ness and their Arabic language. 

Quite naturally, the fact that the Qur’an was revealed in the 
Arabic language was taken by the Arabs as the strongest evidence 
that it was superior to all other languages. If Arabic was chosen by 
God Himself for the vehicle of Revelation, it was not for any prag- 
matic usefulness but rather for the intrinsic virtue of this language 
qua language. Arabic was now the sacred language. And sooner or 
later the non-Arab Muslims also had to admit, because of their ardor 
and veneration for the Sacred Book, the natural superiority of this 
language. And thus the Arabic language qua language ended by 
assuming a high religious value. This process is admirably well 
depicted with all its theological implications by Fakhr al-Dm al-RazT 
in his “Great Commentary”, MafatTh al-Ghayb. 

This natural tendency of the Arabs, continuing to be dominant 
all through the Umayyad period, was pushed to its extreme and took 
on even an emotive nationalistic aspect in the Abbasid period when 
the Arab ‘Asabiyyah was faced with the Persian Shu'ubiyyah which 
claimed the incomparable superiority of the Persian culture in Islam, 
including the Persian language, over things Arab. 

This movement which arose in the second and third centuries of 
Islamic history struck a fatal blow at the already declining Arab 
supremacy in Islam. The people who represented Shu'ubiyyah not 
only declared openly that all Muslims were completely equal, irres- 
pective of race, nationality and lineage — this much was in complete 
accordance with the Qur’anic teaching — but went further and said 
that the non-Arabs were far superior to the Arabs in every respect, 
who were nothing but poor barbarians of the desert with no cultural 
background at all, and that all that was significant in Islamic culture 
went back to non-Arab sources. 

The leaders of the Shu'uhiyyah revolt against the Arabs were 
naturally mostly Persians, but since the reign of the Caliph al- 
Mulawakkil they were joined by the Turks too. Even the last 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

stronghold of the Arabs, i.e., the Arabic language which as I have 
said, had been raised to sanctity, could not remain safe from the 
vehement attacks of the Shu'ubiyyah. Enthusiastic partisans made 
their utmost to bring down the Arabic language from its sacred 
throne and run into the opposite extreme of extolling non-Arabic 
languages like Greek, Persian and Indian as far more perfect than 
Arabic, both as a tool of logical thinking and as a means of 
expression for poetic sentiments and emotions. 

This is indeed an extremely interesting and important phase of 
the history of Islamic culture. But of course the problem lies beyond 
the confines of the present study. 

V. Prayer (Al-Du‘a’) 

In the last section we have analyzed the concept of Revelation in the 
Qur’an. The long and short of it is that wahy in its narrow — properly 
religious — sense is a particular sort of verbal communication that 
takes place between God and man in the descending direction, from 
God to man. God addresses His words directly to man: directly to the 
Prophet, and indirectly to mankind in general. 

| God | 

(wahy) (du’a) 

| man~~| 

But this linguistic relation between God and man is not 
unilateral. In other words, instead of remaining always passive, man 
on his part sometimes takes the initiative in establishing a verbal 
relation with God and tries to communicate with Him by means of 
linguistic signs. The result is a phenomenon which structurally 
corresponds to Revelation in that the latter is a direct verbal 
communication in the ascending direction,* from man to God. Like 
Revelation, this also can occur only in a very special form under 
unusual conditions. Normally, man has at his disposal no means of 
addressing God directly, if only for the reason that this would violate 

Linguistic Communication 


the most fundamental principle of language that there should be an 
ontological equality between the two parties in order that a exchange 
of words might occur. Only in an extraordinary situation, when man 
finds himself in an unusual, non-daily state of mind, when for some 
reason or other his mind has been strained almost to a breaking point, 
is he in a position to address words directly to God. In such a 
situation, man can no longer be a man in an ordinary sense; he is as 
al-Kirmanl says in the passage quoted above, necessarily transformed 
into something above himself. This type of linguistic event in a non- 
daily situation is du‘a’ which is usually translated ‘prayer’. The 
immediate cause which induces man to use language in this way may 
differ from case to case. It may be deep and overbrimming piety 
towards God. Or it may be — and as a matter of fact it is the most 
usual case — imminent danger of death. We see in the Qur’an even 
the unbelieving pagans calling upon God in an emergency “making 
their faith sincere”. 

lJl* Clio f 

* 1 t L 

w yj? Ji LLP Ju J Lj jfi 0 CA LiJo 

When some misfortune visits a man , he calls upon Us for help 
(da ‘a-na), reclining on his side , or sitting, or standing. But 
when We have removed misfortune he goes his way as if he had 
never called upon Us for help because of the misfortune that 
visited him. 

Yunus , 10:13 [12] 

^ -u $ ..* 

y jiiii ii 

(At the last moment when they feel certain of their death by 
shipwreck) they call upon God for help (da < a), making their 
religion sincere : If thou deliverest us from this, we shall truly be 
of the thankful Z 49 

Yunus , 10:23 [22] 

In any case it is clear that this kind of linguistic behavior occurs 
only in an extraordinary situation which puts man out of his normal 
daily frame of mind. In other words, for such a thing to occur, the 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

speaker must find himself in a ‘limit situation’ as the existentialists 
would say. For only in a limited situation can the human heart be 
completely purified of all mundane thoughts, and accordingly the 
language he speaks becomes heightened spiritually. Du ’a ’ is the most 
intimate personal conversation of the heart with God that occurs only 
when the human heart happens to be in such a state. 

The following verse shows better than anything else this basic 
relation of du'a’ with a ‘limit situation’: 

iii i ipilji j' 4JLI1 ^iXe- oig&i i j 

If the chastisement of God comes upon you, or the Hour (i.e. the 
Last Hour) comes upon you, will you be calling upon other than 
God? (Answer) if you are truthful. Nay, upon Him alone will 
you be calling! 

Al-An ‘am, 6:40-41 

When this original spiritual tension becomes somewhat relaxed, 
and the whole thing, instead of passing away as a mere momentary 
phenomenon, transforms itself into a fixed, deep-rooted pious habit, 
then du'a’ becomes synonymous with ‘ibadah (worshipping). 50 

Say : I am forbidden to worship (a *buda) those upon whom you 
call (i.e. the idols) apart from God. 

Al-An ‘am, 6:56 

«'?.*' - 1 T ?i If** A a * * . f. > ? ^ ^ V 

J J J-Xjji J 0 J JaJ 

Drive not away those who call upon their Lord at morn and 
evening, desiring His countenance. 

Al-An ‘am, 6:52 

°J -‘ PJ 'j JS lup j 

Linguistic Communication 

21 1 

Set your faces in every place of worship (towards God) and call 
upon Him, making your religion sincere. 

Al-A ‘rdf 7:30 [29J 

It may be well to recall at this point that Revelation, as I have 
explained in the preceding section, is primarily designed to elicit a 
human response, either positive or negative. When God sends down 
his dyat, He demands man to respond to them with tasdiq and 
‘belief. In like manner, the human act of du'a’ wants to be respon- 
ded to by God. Man, in other words, addresses his du ‘a ’ to God in 
the expectation that his wish be granted. The Divine response to the 
human du ‘a ’ is signified in the Qur’an by the word istijabah meaning 
literally ‘answering’, ‘being ready in response’. Semantically we may 
describe this by saying that the concept of du ‘a’ stands in correlation 
with that of istijabah. Unlike du'a’, which is essentially verbal, 
istijabah is non-verbal. 







(non- verba!) 




In the Qur’an, God Himself declares positively that He is always 
ready to “answer” if only man call upon Him sincerely. 

Your Lord has said: Call upon Me, and I will answer you. 

Ghafir , 40:60 

Moreover, the Qur’an attaches the highest importance to the 
concept of istijabah , as is evident from the fact that it makes the 
incapacity for istijabah one of the most salient marks of a false 
god. The gods whom the Kdfirs worship apart from Allah cannot 
respond to their du*d\ however much the worshippers call upon 
them. They do not hear the Kdfirs ' prayer, and even if they did, they 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Linguistic Communication 

would not be able to answer anything. The du ‘ a of the unbelievers 
goes only astray. 

If you call upon them (i.e. the idols), they will not hear your 
du f a, even if they heard, they would not respond (istajabu) 
to you. 

Fatir , 35:15 [14] 

magical function of language played a tremendous role in society 
But this aspect of the linguistic life of the Arabs has been explorer 
long ago by Goldzieher 52 so fully and in such a scholarly way that 
there is almost nothing left for us to say. 


I yffe j — * Gj aLJ fL*J) 1 <ui5”* U... 1 


To Him is the real du ‘a And those upon whom they call apart 
from Him, do not respond (yastajlbu) to them at all, but it is as 
a man stretches forth his hands towards water that it may come 
to his mouth, and it will never come. The du ‘a ’ of the Kafirs 
goes only astray. 

Al-Ra ‘d, 13:15 [14] 51 

Theoretically, this manner of using words may be considered a 
variety of the ‘magical’ use of language. By classifying du'a’ 
(prayer) under ‘magical’ use of words, I am not implying anything 
depreciatory or pejorative such as may be suggested by the asso- 
ciation of the word ‘magic’ (sihr) in the Qur’an. Here the ‘magical’ 
must be taken as a pure technical term referring to a particular case 
in which words in special situations are used in such a way that they 
may produce some immediate effect on the addressee. Any words one 
utters in a highly strained psychological state with the intention of 
affecting one’s hearer immediately are ‘magical’ in this sense. Even 
in quite ordinary, daily situations, when you use a verb in the 
imperative form, you are using language in a ‘magical’ way, although 
in an extremely weakened and insipid form, so insipid and 
stereotyped that we do not regard it usually as ‘magical’. Still the 
underlying principle is quite the same. 

Magical use of language in a more technical sense is a large 
class comprising besides personal ‘prayer’ addressed to God, oath- 
making, swearing, imprecation, blessing, etc. In Jahiliyyah , the 

1 ■ The part of this chapter which concerns the problem of Revelation in 
the Qur an appeared earlier as a separate article in Studies in Medieval 
Thought, Journal of the Japanese Society of Medieval Philosophy (Vol. 
V, 1962) under the title of “Revelation as a Linguistic in Islam”. But 
the chapter is not an exact reproduction of the article, although the 
problems treated as well as the main argument remain in the nature of 
the case substantially the same. 

2. Al-Mu ‘allaqat, ed. Fr. Aug. Arnold (Septem Mo'allakat), Leipzig 

1850, vv. 68-69. B ’ 

3 . Be it remarked in passing that there is in Arabic a special grammatical 
means of transforming regularly such a word into a ‘two-person’ word. 
It is what is generally known under the name of the third derivative 
form, or the fa ‘ala- form. In contrast to akala (eat), dkala requires two 
persons on the stage: somebody eats together with somebody else at the 
same table. 

4. al-Mufaddaliyyat, CXX, v. 28. 

5. 4JL4 yil' HadTth No. 416, Musnad, vol. I, Cairo, 1949. 

6. More literally: “as if their rocks contained characters” (Mu ‘allaaah 

v - 2 >- ^ or 

7. al-Mufaddaliyyat, XVI, v. 56. See also ‘Antarah, DTwan, p. 190, v, 7, 
where we read; “(as faint) as characters on the parchments dating from 
the reign of Kisra”. ^ ^ ^ 

8. Note that the Surah itself is entitled al-Oalam (the Pen) 

9. 7:139 [143]. 

10. ‘Alqamah al-Fahl, from the famous ode which he composed in 
competition with Imr’ al-Qays, v. 29. For Qur’anic examples of nSda 
sec 7:42 [44], where the People of the Garden {ashdb al-jannah) 
address words (nddd) to the People of the Fire {ashdb al-ndr) the 
distance between the two groups being of course the longest 
imaginable; 7:2 1 [24]; 5:53158]; 68:21-24; 63:9; 49:4, etc The only 
apparent exception S0:40[4 1 ], which reads: 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

-J j* {jA jUj 

“And listen on the day when the Caller (minddi) shall call (yunddi) 
from a near place (makdnin qarlbin ).” But a little reflection will be 
sufficient to show that precisely this combination of the seemingly 
contradictory concepts produces a striking stylistic effect. For the verse 
refers to a really ‘exceptional’ case. It describes the coming of the Day 
of Resurrection, when the Caller, i.e. the Angel, calls all people out of 
their graves to drive them to the place of Judgment. To the ears of the 
dead who hear the cry, the call gives an extraordinary impression as if 
somebody were calling them in a large voice from a distant place, 
which is, strangely enough, so close to them. 

11. Al-A'raf, 7:19 [20]; Al-Nds, 114:5-6 

12. DTwdn , VI, 4. 

13. I owe this methodological idea to Prof. Ernst Leisi, which he first 
exposed systematically in his book Der Wort inhalt, Seine Struktur im 
Deutchen und Englischen, Heidelberg, 1953. 

14. Shams al-Dln Muhammad b. Yusuf b. ‘ AlT al-Kirmanl (ob. 786 A.H.), 
Shark al-Bukhdrl , Vol. I, Cairo, 1939, p. 28. 

15. al-Muqaddimah, ed. al-Wafi, Cairo, Vol. I, pp. 346-347, 360. 

16. On the problem of linguistic magic, see my Language and Magic , 
Tokyo, 1955. 

17. Abhandlungen zur arabischen Philologie, Erster Teil, Leiden, 1896, 
pp. 1-105. 

18. DTwdn, XXXIII, vv. 32-34. 

19. Shahird , ‘apprentice’ — Pahlv. ashagard, Mod. Persian shagird. 

20. This reminds us of the Qur’anic expression tanzll (sending down) of 
the ayat — from the same root NZL — which we discussed in the 
preceding chapter. 

21. DTwdn , ed. Hirschfeld, London, 1910, 79, the last verse. 

22. 27:36. The word majnun literally means “one possessed by a Jinrf\ 

23. 23:24. 

24. 6:100. 

25. 38:158. 

26. 26:222. 

27. 15:6. 

28. al-Bukhan, Bab al-TawhTd. 

29. Ibn Ishaq-Ibn Hisham, STrah Rasul Allah , ed. Wustenfeld, Gottingen, 
1859-60, Vol. I, pp. 10-11. 

30. As regards the word ittasaqa and its meaning, cf. the Qur’an, 84:18. 

31. Also al-Hdqqah, 69:42. 

32. Sahfh al-Bukhdrl , I, No. 2. 

33. 2:91 [97]. 

Linguistic Communication 


34. 81:19. 

35. Here the words are put in the mouth of the Prophet Noah. 

36. See for instance, 3:48 [46]. 

37. 75.16 [19]. Also in 20:113 [114], we meet with a similar admonition. 

38. For a very detailed philological analysis of the word ndbhV in Hebrew, 
see Alfred Guillaume, Prophecy and Divination , London, 1938, 
Lecture III. 

39. Mutatraf LXVI, II, 1 89. See for further information my Language and 
Magic , 1955. pp. 130-131. 

40. See for example, Structure of the Ethical Terms in the Quran , 
chapter VII. 

41. 30:21 [22]. 

42. 18:92 [93]. 

43. 46:11 [12]. 

44. 16:105 [103]. 

45. al-Mufaddal iyydt, XII, v. 36. 

46. 4JLp 

47. j[+>r l^>- y*. 

48. 49:14-15. 

49. For the religious implication of the concept of ‘thankfulness’, see 
Chapter 9, section I. 

50. For a discussion of the meaning of this word, see the next chapter. 

51. See also Ghafir , 40:53 [50]. 

52. In his study on the Hijd ' poetry in ancient Arabia, op. cit, pp. 1-105. 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 



Jahiliyyah and Islam 

I. Islam and the Concept of Humble Submission 

In this chapter we are going to deal with the third aspect of the 
fundamental relation between God and man: the Lord-servant 
relation, God as the ‘Lord’ (rabb) and man as His ‘servant’ (‘ abd ). 

As already noted, the conception of Allah as ‘Lord’ was not 
unknown to the Jahili Arabs. Only in pre-Islamic times Allah was not 
the sole, absolute Lord. There were besides Him many rabbs and 
rabbahs. Islam acknowledged Him for the first time as the absolute 
Sovereign, the Only Absolute Lord of the whole world. 

This implied that all other things, not only ordinary human 
beings, but the Prophets and even the Angels should never be 
considered ‘Lords’ ( arbab ) in any sense. In 3:74 [80]; 3:171 [172], 
for example, we are told that even “the angels who are near stationed 
to God” (al-mala 'ikah al-muqarraburi) will not be allowed to disdain 
to be His faithful and humble servants. 

The establishment of the conception of Allah as the Absolute 
Lord of all necessarily introduced also a radical change into the 
conception of the relation between God and man. A new semantic 
field was formed around this new idea, containing a number of most 
important key-terms in the Qur’an. 

Since God is now the Absolute Sovereign, the only possible 
attitude for man to take towards Him is that of complete submission, 
humbleness and humility without reserve. In short, a ‘servant’ {‘abd) 
should act and behave as a ‘servant’ ( ‘abd)— hence the important 


semantic development shown by the word ‘ibadah, which from the 
original literal meaning of “serving Him as a servant”, “serving Him 
as behooves a servant”, eventually has come to mean ‘worship’ and 
‘cult’. This association of concepts is shown very clearly in the 
following verse: 

•‘Z 3 ^ j 1 a ^ :.i 

Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. 

So serve Him and be steadfast in His service. 

Al-Tawbah, 9:68 [65] 

The primary function of a servant consists naturally in serving 
his master faithfully, paying constant and careful attention to the 
latter’s wishes whatever he wishes, and obeying without murmuring 
his commands. This is why so much importance is attached in the 
Qur’an to the group of terms meaning absolute obedience, submission 
and humility, like ta'ah (obedience), 1 quriut (obedience, humble- 
ness), 2 khushu ' (submissiveness), 3 tadarru ‘ (self-abasement) 4 all these 
stand in a sharp contrast to the attitude of stubborn refusal to obey, 
symbolized in the Qur’an by the image of a “hardened heart”. 

But by far the most important of all the concepts belonging in 
this class is the concept of islam itself, not, of course, in the sense of 
the historical, objective, religious culture known as Islam — Islam as 
a result of the process of ‘reification’, to use the terminology of Dr. 
Wilfred Cantwell Smith — but islam in the original sense of the 
determined self-submission, self-surrendering to the Divine Will, i.e . , 
a decisive step taken by each individual person, as his own inner 
personal and existential problem, towards resigning his soul to God. 5 

Islam, or the verb aslama, in the sense in which it is used in the 
phrase aslama wajha-hu li-Allahi , lit. “He has submitted his face to 
God”, means originally and primarily that one voluntarily surrenders 

1 oneself to the Divine Will putting one’s trust wholly in God. It is, in 

short, the kind of unconditional self-surrender which expresses itself 
verbally in a verse like this: / 

I 1 ' tjj^> 

And, Lord, make us submissive to thee! 

Al-Baqarah , 2:122 [128] 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Now, what makes this concept particularly important among all 
the concepts relating to humbleness and submission, is primarily of 
course the fact that God Himself has chosen this as the name of the 
new Arabian religion. But it is also due to the fact that Islam, as an 
inner personal religious experience of each individual person, means 
the occurrence of an important event that marks the initial point from 
which real obedience and humbleness begin. 


(A) Jahili period (B) Islamic period 

It marks a decisive turning point in the life of a man, a turning point 
in the religious sense which cuts his whole length of life into two 
halves ( A , B ) that will henceforward stand diametrically opposed to 
each other. Grammatically speaking, the verb aslama belongs to a 
particular group of verbs called ‘inchoative’. In other words, instead 
of denoting a permanent nature, it signifies something new that 
comes into being for the first time; it marks the beginning of a new 
situation, the birth of a new nature. Only in the participal form 
muslim does it signify a more or less permanent attribute. But even 
then the implication is that it is an attribute which has ensued from 
the decisive step taken. 

All the other Qur’anic terms meaning obedience and submission 
are extremely vague and ambiguous in this respect. They might give 
the wrong impression of obedience and humility being a natural 
quality of man. They do not contain in their semantic structure the 
moment of existential decision, of jumping into an unknown sphere 
of life. Only the word islam implies this. A muslim in the original 
sense is a man who has dared to make such a jump. Of course I am 
speaking of the Muslims in the earliest period of Islam as depicted in 
the Qur’an, when all the Muslims without exception, including the 
Prophet himself, had been once pagans. 

It is only after a man has made this decisive jump that such 
concepts as ‘obedience’, ‘submission’ and ‘humility’ begin to appear 
invested with a truly religious significance. The words like khushu\ 
tadarru ' etc . as key-terms in the Qur’an do not mean simple, 
ordinary humbleness. What is meant thereby is a particular kind of 
humbleness that ensues from the decisive act of islam which we have 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 


just analyzed. 

As I have said, the spiritual act of aslama ushers in an entirely 
new period in the life of a man, and the two portions of life separated 
in this way by the point of aslama are of an entirely different nature 
from each other and are radically opposed to each other. If we call 
the portion B ‘Islamic’, period A may be called ‘ Jahilf period of a 
man. It must be kept in mind that we are now talking of the life of 
an individual man. ‘Islamic’ and ‘ Jahilf do not yet designate at this 
stage two consecutive historical periods, as they do in later Islam. 
‘Jahiliyyah’ is still a personal quality, not the name of a historic age. 
In this original sense, ‘ Jahilf cannot properly be translated as ‘pre- 
Islamic’, because it means much more, as we shall see immediately. 
It does not mean simply a period preceding the rise of Islam; it is 
something positive, and positively opposed to ‘Islamic’. 

At any rate, the life of one individual person is divided into two 
entirely different parts. From now on he is a Muslim, while up till 
now he has been a JdhiL What does this mean? This is the main 
problem which will occupy our attention in the following pages. 

A man’s being a Muslim implies many different things, but from 
the specific point of view which is ours now, it means primarily that 
he is a man who has abandoned all his selfishness, all pride in human 
power, and stands humbled, meek and submissive as a ‘servant’ 
( ‘abd) before God who is his Lord (rabb) and Master. This 'abd - ness 
is the distinguishing feature of the portion B in the above diagram.. 

The portion A implies all the personal qualities that are contrary 
to this absolute submissiveness and humility, all those qualities that 
prevent man from being submissive and humble to God. Pride in 
human power, limitless self-confidence, sense of absolute indepen- 
dence, the unshakable determination not to bow before any authority, 
whether human or divine — in short, all that is contrary to 'abd- ness. 
Historically, too, this was one of the most characteristic traits of the 
pre-Islamic Arab mind. 

In fact, the pre-Islamic Arabs were notorious for th ; e personal 
qualities which have just been mentioned. But far from being moral 
defects, these represented in their eyes the highest ideal of human 
virtue, the noblest virtue of a man really worthy of the name of 
‘man’, a! fad For these qualities were all based on, and various 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 


manifestation of, the sense of ‘honor’ (' ird) which was deep-rooted 
in their mentality, and which was, indeed, the highest regulating 
principle of their conduct. 

This prominent Jahilf quality was variously known as anafah , 
literally ‘high-nosed-ness’, iba ’ (refusal, i.e. to allow one’s honor 
sullied), hamiyyah (zeal for defending what one has to defend) — a 
word which occurs in the Qur’an (48:26) precisely in this sense in the 
particular combination of hamiyyah al-jdhiliyyah (the hamiyyah 
which is characteristic of the jahiliyyah) and haffzah “guarding 
jealously one’s honor”. All these words were in use then to mean the 
noble quality of a noble man who would proudly refuse to accept 
anything whatsoever that might degrade his personal dignity, a fierce 
passionate nature to hurl back with scorn anything which might make 
him feel humbled and humiliated even in the slightest way. 

This fiery spirit of resistance which made man refuse resolutely 
to submit and surrender to the will of any other man, and to sully 
thereby his honor was indeed the real fountain-head of almost all 
Jahilf human values. This spirit found its expression in various forms 
everywhere in pre-Islamic poetry. Here is an example which expre- 
sses it in the simplest and most straightforward way: 

fy aSvij Js- Jb 

We refuse resolutely to submit to another’s direction, whoever he may 
be! On the contrary, we make all men obey our directions, and that 
without bit and bridle. 6 

It is worthy of note that the word with which the verse begins, 
na ' bd , comes from the verb aba which corresponds to the above- 
mentioned verbal noun iba ’ (refusing proudly). A man characterized 
by this haughty spirit of resistance to anything that might tarnish his 
‘honor’ was called ably. An ably was a man who could never 
acquiesce in being abased by anybody else, and even never allowed 
any of those who happened to be under his protection to be abased, 
as Ta’abbata Sharran says in the verse quoted earlier in connection 
with the problem of human destiny. 

At this haughty spirit of Jahiliyyah Islam struck a mortal blow. 
Or perhaps we should rather say that Islam touched on the sore point 
of the mentality of the Jahilf Arabs. For it demanded of them, before 

anything else, to abandon before the One and Only king of the whole 
world all pride in human power, the feeling of self-sufficiency, which 
the Qur’an called istighna ’ and tughyan — from the verb taghd 
meaning a torrent of water rising high to the degree of overflowing 
(96:6-7), and to feel really humble and submissive to a Will which 
presides over the whole universe as the supreme Lord. 

No, indeed, man tends to be insolent (yatgha) because he thinks 
himself self-sufficient ( istaghnaj . 

Al- Alaq, 96:6-7 7 

From the Islamic point of view, everyone is a servant ( ‘ab d) of 
this Lord, and it is his natural duty to manifest his ‘abd- ness in all 
his actions and sayings, to serve his great Lord with unbounded 
humbleness and docility. From the point of view of a Jahilf man, 
however, no one is entitled to demand of him such a thing; he is the 
Lord of himself. Humble and docile submission to whomsoever it 
may be, is in his eyes simple servitude — i.e. f abd- ness in the sense 
of being an abject slave as opposed to a free-born Arab (hurr). 

Again from the Islamic point of view this refusal of self- 
surrender on the part of Jahilf Arabs was nothing but a manifestation 
of human presumptuousness, insolence and arrogance caused by 
man’s ignorance of himself and of God. This is why in the Qur’an 
the word istikbar (to be haughty) — or more literally, “to consider 
oneself great” — and its synonyms play such an important role in the 
critical description of the attitude of the Kafirs. In fact, the over- 
bearing haughtiness and the mocking attitude that ensues from it arc 
described minutely and vividly everywhere in the Qur’an as the most 
characteristic feature of the pagan Arabs. 

This is, in short, the spirit of the Jahiliyyah to which the Qur’an 
refers in the Surah al-Fath. 

/If ** * ^ 0 Y 

When the Kafirs set up in their hearts the hamiyyah, that 
hamiyyah so, characteristic of the Jdhil-ness. 

Al-Fath , 48:26 


God and Man fn the Qur’an 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 

22 I 

Thus we see here before our eyes another basic conceptual 
conflict between two irreconcilable principles: jahiliyyah on the one 
hand, and is lam on the other, that is, haughtiness, arrogance and 
insolence on the one hand, and humbleness and submission on the 
other, towards one and the same object — Allah. And this is 
undoubtedly the most ‘dramatic’ moment of the whole Qur’anic 
divina commedia. 

It is important to remark in this connection that this radical 
opposition of jahiliyyah and islam, or of jahil on the one hand and 
muslim or mu ’min on the other, was quite a new situation brought 
about by the rise of Islam in Arabia, as is easy to see from the very 
fact that the concept of muslim or mu ’min itself in the religious sense 
had not been existent in pre-Islamic times. 

In pre-Islamic times, jahil (or jahl) was sharply opposed to a 
different concept, viz., halfm (or hilm). But again the problem is very 
delicate because this concept of hilm, although quite a different 
concept from islam, is not so different as to have nothing in common 
with it. On the contrary, there is even a certain respect in which we 
might regard it as the pre-religious, pre-Islamic form of the concept 
of islam itself. This is shown by the fact that when the new religion 
replaced the old concept of halim by the new concept of muslim or 
mu’min, the replacement took place gradually and as a natural 
process, so to speak, without causing, in this respect, any abrupt 
break with the old Arabian ethics. How, then, was hilm replaced 
smoothly by the new concept of Islam? How does this latter concept 
link up historically with that of hilm, as a new interpretation of an 
old concept? This will be our next problem. 

It is a commonplace today among the Orientalists that jahl was 
not in pre-Islamic times contrary of ‘ilm — ‘ignorance’ as opposed to 
‘knowledge’ — as it had been generally believed before Goldzieher 
published his now famous paper on this problem. 8 

The major points of his thesis have been summarized by many 
Western writers on the origin of Islam in Arabia, 9 and I myself have 
referred to this article in my book on the Structure of the Ethical 
Terms and have examined there carefully all the relevant passages in 
the Qur’an in which the root JHL appears under various forms. It 
would be wearisome to go over again what has so often been disc- 
ussed. Here I shall take up this problem from a somewhat different 
angle, trying al the same time, if possible, to push further ahead the 

analysis of the conceptual pair: jahl and hilm. 

In Islam — or to be more exact, in the Qur’an— jahiliyyah is a 
religious term in the negative sense, because it is the very basis on 
which the kufr of the Kafirs is based. In fact, it was this haughty 
spirit of independence, this keenest sense of honor which refused to 
bow before any authority, be it human or divine, that incited the 
Kafirs to set up the most determined opposition against the new 
religion. They'aM-ness was in short, the very root and source oikuj'r. 

In pre-Islamic times the word had no religious connotation at all. 
Jahl was simply a human, personal feature; only it was a very 
characteristic one. It was really something quite typical of the pre- 
Islamic Arabs. So much so that when we read pre-Islamic poetry, it 
is, together with its counterpart hilm, one of those concepts that we 
meet with almost at every step. Unless we know the exact meaning 
of this pair of words, jahl and hilm, we cannot hope to understand 
the psychological make-up of the ancient Arabs, and, consequently, 
in many cases we would not be able to understand why they acted 
and reacted as they did, for we would not see the driving motive 
underlying their peculiar behavior pattern. 

The concept of jahl being so characteristic of the psychology of 
the pre-Islamic Arabs it is but natural that the word should occur 
very frequently in Jahill poetry. And it is comparatively easy to 
isolate the basic semantic elements of this word, if we examine care- 
fully the numerous instances of its usage in pre-Islamic literature, 
applying to them the method of contextual analysis. 

The major semantic constituents of this concept which my own 
analysis has isolated may conveniently be stated in a summary form 
as follows. 

1 — The first and the most conspicuous feature of the human 
nature signified by the word jahl — or rather we should perhaps say 
the root JHL, for jahl is merely one of the many possible forms 
under which the root JHL appears — concerns a particular behavior 

Jahl is the typical behavior pattern of a hot-blooded impetuous 
man, who tends to lose his self-control on the slightest provocation, 
and consequently to act recklessly, driven by an uncontrolable blind 
passion, without reflecting on the disastrous consequence this 
behavior might lead to It is the behavior pattern peculiar to a man 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 


of an extremely touchy and passionate nature, who has no control of 
his own feelings and emotions, and who, therefore, easily surrenders 
himself to the dictates of violent passions, losing the sense of what 
is right and what is wrong. 

It is to this aspect of jahl that the concept of hilm is primarily 
opposed. Hilm is the nature of a man who is able to stop the outburst 
of this very jahl. Halim is a man who knows how to smother his 
feelings, to overcome his own blind passions and to remain tranquil 
and undisturbed whatever happens to him, however much he may be 

If jahl is a burning flame of anger — and the image is actually 
used by Jahili poets: ihtidam 10 (the verb ihtadama) meaning “to bum 
with a furious flame and scorching heat ” — hilm is calmness, balanced 
mind,- self-control, and steadiness of judgment. 

This contrast between jahl and hilm found its expression in a 
very interesting metaphor in a verse by ‘ Amr b. Ahmar al-BahilT. The 
poet was a Jahili , who later embraced Islam. 

(Ji«; ‘Ji Ijl Uj*- jsyji I (Jwj 

Many the large (jillah ) black cooking pots (duhm, lit.: black ones) 
which our maid-servants take good care of ( tusadi-ha , lit.: flatter and 
cajole them); once their belly (i.e. the content of the pots) becomes 
jahil (i.e., boils up), it will never become halim (i.e. calm down). 11 

The first thing that attracts our attention in this verse is that it 
describes the cooking pots of the poet’s tribe that continue boiling 
and seething endlessly as if they would never calm down, a very 
impressive symbol of wealth and limitless hospitality. The poet 
produces an unusual effect by describing the pots as if they were 
human beings, and this by ascribing to them metaphorically, two 
important human qualities: jahl and hilm. For our present purpose, 
this verse is interesting because this metaphor of a large black 
seething pot over a burning fire makes us understand better than any 
lengthy prosaic description the nature of the concept of jahl and of 
its opposite hilm. 

At the same time this metaphor makes us see how appropriate 
the word jahil is in the Qur’an in the mouth of Joseph in Egypt in 
describing the dangerous temptation to which he almost yielded. 

% a ^ y U-f ^ 

' K i.,' ti -* 3-' 1 *f, - * f *v.*> - 

“O my Lord!" he cries, "/ would sooner be cast into prison 
than do that which these women urge me to do. Yet if Thou 
turnest not from me their temptation, I shall surrender myself to 
the surge of lust (asbu) for them and so become a jahil 

Yusuf 12:33 

The verb saba (asbu) is worthy of note in this context. In pre- 
Islamic literature, it is, so to speak, a technical term in common use 
in love-poetry for a rushing surge of youthful passion. It means that 
you are overwhelmed by an unbridled passion that surges up in your 
heart, disturbs your balance of mind, makes you lose the sense of 
right and wrong, and drives you towards folly. The following verse 
by al-Mukhabbal is very illuminating in this respect because it shows 
the close conceptual relation that exists between saba — which is, as 
we know from the Qur’anic verse just cited, nothing other than a 
different name of jahl — and hilm.' 2 

jjb- l Zjs j S-'tj 

Suddenly the image of Rabab came back to his memory, and indeed 
the remembrance of her is an illness. It made him succumb to a 
surging passion of love, and once a man has succumbed to the blind 
passion of love, there can be no place in him for hilm. 

The same negative combination of hilm with saba is seen in the 
next verse from the same Diwan : 13 

Those nights when she tried to provoke passion in the heart of a grave 
and serious man with her coquetry. 

With this, I think a general idea has been given of what kind of 
a man a jdhil is, and what kind of a man a halim. Jahl, wc have 
seen, is a behavior pattern peculiar to a hot-blooded man who tends 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jdhiliyyah and Islam 


to lose his temper at the slightest provocation and make himself 
uncontrolable. At this stage, it has nothing at all to do with the 
concept of ‘ignorance’. A halfm is a man who knows how to over- 
come his surging emotions and passions, who is able to keep himself 
tranquil and unperturbed under provocation. 

I must add one more important remark regarding the meaning 
structure of halfm and hilm. The explanation I have just given may 
convey the wrong impression that hilm were a passive quality, 
something that would remind one of the natural meekness of a lamb. 
On the contrary, it is a positive and active power of the soul that is 
strong enough to curb her own impetuosity that may drive the man 
headlong to folly, and calm it down to patience and forbearance. It 
is a sign of the power and superiority of the mind. 

There can be no hilm where there is no power. It is essentially 
a quality of a man who governs and dominates others, and not of 
those who are governed and dominated. A naturally weak and 
powerless person is never called halfm, however much he calms 
down his anger when insulted; he is ‘weak’ simply. Halfm is a man 
who possesses power, power to go to all kinds of violence when 
provoked and yet possesses, at the same time, the power to restrain 
himself from doing violence. 

Here the poet, Salim b. Wabisah, after describing in detail how 
he always tries and succeeds to check his fits of anger and to keep 
himself from rushing to acts of violence, whatever those who envy 
him and hate him do and say against him, reflects and says proudly: 

Verily, to take the attitude of humility consciously is a kind of hilm , 
and in fact hilm based on power (and not coming from ‘q/'z, ‘natural 
weakness’) is a virtue characteristic of the nobleness of the soul. 14 

In this verse we see clearly stated that the true hilm is a 
‘conscious’ effort to keep oneself calm despite the fact that one is 
fully in possession of qudrah , ‘power’ (to strike back). Halfm is a 
man who forgives his enemy and shows gentleness ‘from above’, 
from a superior position. This will make us understand the true 
meaning of the word halfm as applied to Allah in the Qur’an. 15 God 

forgives sins committed by men and is gentle, but it is not a simple 
gentleness; it is a gentleness based on power, forbearance based on 
calm wisdom, which is possible only because it is coupled with an 
infinite power. It suggests, therefore, that there is always in the 
background the possibility of a dreadful and drastic punishment. 

It is clear, then, that hilm is a particular behavior pattern backed 
by a clear consciousness of one’s own superiority and power. It is not 
a sign of ‘natural weakness’, *ajz\ it is’a sign of natural ‘power’ 
0 qudrah ). That is why the concept of hilm is so closely associated 
with waqar meaning the “dignity of manner and deportment”. 

Since hilm is such a particular kind of tranquility which conceals 
within it a tremendous power, highly compressed inner energy, it is 
very difficult for it not to make itself manifest in a physical way, in 
deportment and outward attitude. This bodily manifestation of hilm 
is waqar , “grave and dignified bearing” — waqar al-hilm {waqar of 
hilm ) as it is often called. Khalaf b. Khallfah, a famous poet of the 
Umayyad period gives us an interesting example. 

All of them show a remarkable of hilm so much so that even a small 
boy among them looks as if he were a man of mature age because of 
his natural dignity. 

This is of course an exaggeration, but it brings out very well an 
important aspect of the concept of hilm. 

Waqar is a value word. That is to say, the word represents the 
outward attitude of a halfm as something imposing and admirable. 
The same ‘dignified bearing’ may also be looked at with antipathy, 
from the standpoint of an enemy. Then it would be nothing but the 
bodily manifestation of sheer ‘arrogance’. 

When the opponent shows an arrogant attitude, swaggering about with 
his chest puffed out elatedly ( abza ), inclining his head pti one side, 
perking up his shoulder. 16 

This a typical description of a ‘haughty’ man. The inclining of 
his head on one sld® w was so typical of this kind of man that the 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 

22 <> 

phrase istaqama al-akhda‘u , [ 8 lit. “the neck has straightened up”, 
meant that the man lost his self-confidence and became humiliated. 

With all this, it was not always easy, particularly for those who 
were unable to see things hidden under the surface, to distinguish 
between a real hallm , that is, a man who showed gentleness and 
meekness because he was tremendously powerful, and a man who 
was, so to speak, forced to be gentle, and similing simply because he 
was weak. And a real hallm was often mistaken for a weak, 
powerless man, to whom one could do anything one liked to do 
without any danger of being hit back. 

I think that it is my apparent meekness (hilm) that has induced my 
tribesmen to do all kinds of wrong and injustice to me, but even a 
halTm man may sometimes be forced to lose his composure and give 
a free rein to his ebullient anger (yustajhalu , lit.: to be forced to 
become a jdhil ). x 9 

This inability to distinguish between real hilm and real weakness 
made itself manifest not only in the field of mundane, purely human 
relations, but in a certain sense at the religious level also, namely, in 
the attitude of the pagan Makkans towards Islam. For, as the Qur’an 
shows, the disbelieving Makkans full of self-confidence and pride 
were induced to assume a more and more arrogant attitude towards 
Islam when they saw that the severe Divine punishment did not 
actually overtake them as promised so repeatedly by the Revelation. 
Seen from the point of view of the Muslims, the Makkans mistook 
Divine hilm for weakness and lack of power. 

Before closing this part of our discussion, we must mention 
briefly one more important fact. The above study of the concept of 
jahl will contribute toward elucidating the concept of zulm, which is 
another outstanding key-term in the Qur’an . 20 

If the outer manifestation of hilm is, as we have just seen, 
waqar , that of jahl is zulm . In most cases zulm is nothing but a 
particular form assumed by jahl when it bursts out in a physically 
observable form in behavior; in short, jahl is the inside and zulm is 
the outside of the matter. This will, I think, make us understand 
immediately that zulm is not a simple ‘wrong-doing’ as the word is 

commonly translated. At the same time, this would seem to make n 
clear that the basic meaning of the word zulm, as it is used in the 
Qur’an in reference to the attitude of the stubborn disbelievers, 
should be understood in correlation with jahl. 

Behind all their acts of zulm against the Prophet and his follo- 
wers, we must see the working of the spirit of jahl, as the very 
source of all these actions. By offering a stubborn and violent 
resistance to the Prophet and the Divine teaching, they are apparently 
and seemingly directing their zulm towards God Himself. But, in the 
Qur’anic conception, no one in the whole world can ever direct an 
act of zulm towards God. So they are, in reality, doing zulm, not to 
God, but to themselves. This must be the meaning of the Qur’anic 
expression zulm al-nafs, “doing wrong to oneself’. 

In order to understand this point still better we have to remem- 
ber that the concept of jahl is a very wide one covering almost the 
whole range of human life. In other words, whenever a man loses his 
temper and his self-control, he is being a jahil. But at the higher level 
of moral life, the concept acquires a very special coloring by being 
associated with the concept of ‘personal honor’ ( ‘ird). Then it is a 
particular type of moral indignation caused by the feeling that one’s 
‘ird is being vitally involved, that one’s personal honor has been 
compromised or violated. This behavior pattern was, as we saw 
earlier, quite typical of the pre-Islamic Arabs. 

In this particular context, jahl means an attitude of stem protest 
against having one’s personal honor trampled under foot. It is a 
determined refusal to be humiliated. This, I think, is exactly what is 
meant by the above-mentioned phrase in the Qur’an, hamiyat al- 
jdhiliyyah. It is clear from the Qur’an that many pagan Arabs felt as 
an unbearable humiliation to bow before the absolute authority of 
God. It did not make much difference to them whether the supreme 
authority before whom they were commanded to bow was human or 
divine. The idea itself of surrendering to any superior authority and 
being commanded to do so was to them unbearably humiliating. They 
were jahl in this particular sense. 

And it is evidently this particular moral aspect of jahl that plays 
a major role in the religious world-view of the Qur’an. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 


2 — We now turn to the second semantic element of jahl, and in 
connection with it, that of hilm, too. This second aspect is directly 
dependent on the first aspect and derives from it; it is the most 
natural consequence of jahl being such a thing as I have just tried to 
explain. The second aspect concerns the effect of jahl on the intellec- 
tual capacity of man. Quite naturally this effect can appear only in a 
negative way, i.e., destructively. The nature of jahl is such that 
whenever it becomes active it smothers and weakens the reasoning 
power of the human brain. In order to keep your steadiness of 
judgment, in whatever situation you may be put, you must be a 

Of course one may object to this and say like Ma‘bad b. 
‘Alqamah, a poet contemporary of the Prophet: 

Ljl j tj-bl 

Our hands act in a jahil way, yes, but our head remains calm 
and hallm?' 

This is possible in theory; it is easy to say this, but in practice, 
it is a feat rarely to be accomplished. How can one see things 
objectively with an undisturbed tranquility of mind when one is blind 
with passion? As a general rule, jahl causes the weakening, if not 
complete loss, of the function of reason ( ‘aql)\ only when coupled 
with hilm, is ‘aql capable of functioning normally. 

It will be easy to see, then, that hilm has in itself a latent 
possibility of being developed and elaborated philosophically into 
something close to the Hellenistic virtue of ‘non-perturbation’ based 
on the cultivation of autarcy. The Arabs did not go in this direction. 

But hilm is capable also of being developed in another direction, 
i.e., in the direction of administrative skill and political wisdom, a 
remarkable show of tact and statesmanship, based on a perfect control 
of one’s own feelings, in dealing with other people and particularly, 
in governing and ruling other people. This is what the Arabs did. 

In Jahiliyyah, hilm was unanimously recognized, and highly 
esteemed, as one of the most essential, indispensable qualities of a 
sayyid or a man standing at the head of the tribesmen, with siyadah 
(tribal chieftaincy) and ri'asah (headman-ship) in his hand. 

p-Lillj Su* (XdLi 3 [fL O* Ijl 

If you ever want to rule people as their chief, then rule them not will: 
rashness and abusing (i.e. rule them with hilm). For, indeed, hilm 
produces a better result than jahl — you must keep it well in 

mind except in your being treated unjustly with excessive hatred 
and enmity. 32 

Now the hilm of the tribe of Quraysh was very famous in 
Arabia. This does not mean simply that the Makkans were all hallm 
in the original Bedouin sense; it meant primarily that they were 
clever and shrewd people, clever enough to develop this age-old 
virtue of the Arabs into a political wisdom. They knew how to 
manage and control their naturally hot-blooded, touchy neighbours 
with a clever tact by, first, controlling themselves. Prof. Montgomery 
Watt sees in this hilm of Quraysh, developed into a political wisdom 
and ruling technique, the very basis on which the Makkans could 
build up so successfully their mercantile enterprises. 2S And it would 
not be going too far to ascribe that wise statesmanship displayed by 
the Prophet himself after the migration to MadTnah to this inborn 
quality of the Quraysh. Not entirely, perhaps; but still the 
biographical traditions about Muhammad show most clearly that he 
was indeed a first-rate statesman and also a man of hilm. There must 
have been some strong inner relationship between the two 
qualifications. Only, unlike the other Makkans who used this political 
talent in business and trade, he used it in building up his religious 
community (ummah). 

Jahl, as we have seen, is not primarily a permanent nature of 
man, it denotes occasional outbursts of passion, and as regards its 
effect on human intellect and reason, it implies momentary, and not 
necessarily permanent and constant, absence of the balance of mind. 

But if a man happens to be constantly in that state, if he is an 
habitual jahil, then we may reasonably suppose that he is incapable 
of forming a judicious judgment on any matter. Such a man is 
mentally blind. He cannot sec through things; his sight stops at the 
surface of things and does not penetrate deep into them. His under- 
standing and observation are bound to be superficial, and he lends to 
acl 111 *11 situations according to his superficial understanding. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Thus we arrive at the second meaning of jahl: the incapacity of 
the mind for having deep understanding of things which consequently 
produces always shallow and rash judgments on everything. 

How can I ever forget Nushaybah (who has been killed)?! Though a 
man who cannot see deep (jahil ), a mughammar (i.e. a man with an 
insufficient experience, a ‘greenhorn’), might think (mistakenly) that 
I am a forgetful man. 24 

This is exactly paralleled by the usage of the same word in the 
Qur’an, in the Surah al-Baqarah, where mention is made of the poor 
people, who even in dire poverty know how to keep themselves 
abstinent, i.e., who behave decently and composedly because of their 
inborn haya, “sense of shame” (which was so highly praised by the 
Prophet, according to Hadith, as one of the foundations of religion). 

✓ * s * * ' ■' * *£> • 

A man who judges things only by seeing the surface (jahil) may 
get a wrong impression and consider them rich because of their 
abstinence and restraint , but thou shalt know them by their 

Al-Baqarah , 274 [273] 

But of course the Qur’an, in the majority of cases, uses this 
word in the sense of shallow observation and superficial judgment in 
reference to matters that are more properly religious. In this religious 
sense, jahl is the incapacity of a man to understand God’s Will 
behind the veil of visible things and events, the incapacity to see the 
natural things as so many Divine ay at. For this kind of man, the 
natural things are just natural things, and not symbols of anything. 
And since, according to the Qur’an, God sends down his ay at in the 
clearest and most evident way — that is, as bayyinat, ‘evident 
(signs )’— -jahl means the intellectual incapacity to understand even the 
self-evident religious truth, and even the easiest part of Divine 
revelation. Examples abound in the Qur’an. Here I give only one 
of them: 

Irnm ...—mmmmrn 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 

23 5 

,4-io \2‘j, 


Even if We should sent down the angels to them, and the dead 
should speak to them, and We should gather all things in array 
before their own eyes, yet they would not be believers, unless 
God so willed. But most of them are just jahils. 

Al-An ‘am, 6:3 

Jahl is not restricted to the superficial observation of things 
around man; it includes also the incapacity of a man to see ‘himself, 
to take the correct and exact measure of himself. He who does not 
know himself, who cannot see the natural limitation of his capacity, 
and who therefore tends to go beyond his human bounds is also a 
jahil. And from this point of view, words like tughyan and baghy 
meaning “exceeding the bounds” are often used by the Qur’an in 
describing the attitude of the Kafirs towards God, as a concrete 
manifestation of jahl. 

In short, jahl in this sense is almost equivalent to mental 
blindness. The Qur’an brings out this aspect of jahl in a very 
pertinent way. 

It is not the eyes that are blind, but it is the hearts, which are 
within the bosoms, that are blind. 

Al-Hajj, 22:45 [46] 

They are mentally blind, and mentally deaf; how, then, can we 
hope them to understand the religious truth? — this is the final verdict 
passed upon those who are characterized by jahl in this sense. 

This aspect of the semantic structure of jahl makes us under- 
stand easily how its opposite, hilm, came to acquire the meaning of 
‘aql (reason). Reason can only operate properly when you are calm, 
as long as you keep the balance of ‘aql\ the latter is a narrower 
concept than hilm. Hilm is the very basis of ‘reason’ and ‘intellect’. 
To be very exact, however, it is not a perfect synonym of "aql, the 
latter is a narrower concept than hilm. Hilm is the very basis of ' aql ; 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

it is the unagitated state of the mind which makes the proper activity 
of 'aql possible, which enables the ‘aql to operate calmly and 
steadily so that it may produce good and right judgments. But, 
practically, of course, the two come to the same thing. 

In a satire ( hija *) against Banu HarTth b. Ka‘b, HassSn ibn 
Thabit uses the word in this particular sense in an extremely inte- 
resting way. 25 

-* "■ " ' > * > ^ 

O BanU HarTth! do not your intellects ( ahlam , pi. of hilm) prevent you 
(lit: scare you back) from attacking me {i.e., by hija’)? But (on 
reflection I must admit that this is demanding too much of you) for 
you are all hollow with nothing inside, giants with tiny brains 
(jumkhur, “a man whose body is big but whose intellect is small and 
weak”). There is nothing wrong in people’s being tall and big, but the 
combination of a body as a mule and an intellect {ahlam) as small as 
that of little birds (is too much!). 

It is perhaps worthy to be noted that the Qur’an uses the same 
word in this sense in a very similar way. 

This is said in reference to the inimical attitude of the Makkans 
towards the Prophet. 

Do their intellects bid them do this? (i.e., are they acting like 
this in accordance with what their poor intellect commands?) Or 
are they (by nature) an insolent and arrogant people? 

Al-Tur , 52:32 

3 — It is not a far cry from this to the third meaning of the word 
jahl , i.e., ‘ignorance’. Here the opposite of jahl is no longer hilm , but 
Him (knowledge). This is, as is well known, the most usual meaning 
of jahl in classical Arabic. This, however, is the least important of 
the three fundamental meanings of the word in the earlier period. 
Still, pre-lslamic poetry offers some examples though not very many. 
‘Anlarah’s Mu'allaqah, for instance, (v. 43): 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 



^ o;i l JL 

The poet, addressing his beloved ‘Ablah (Malik’s daughter), 
says: “Why don’t you ask our horsemen, if you are ignorant, about 
what you do not know?” meaning thereby “everybody knows how 
brave and valiant 1 am on the battle field; ask anybody you like if by 
any chance you do not know this.” 

This meaning of “lack of knowledge”, “lack of information” 
does not play an important role in the Qur’an. The word is used 
mostly either in the first or the second sense. Perhaps we may cite as 
an example of this: 

era ^ y.yi p-i ^ JLU dJi 

God shall forgive only those who do evil in ignorance (jahalah) 
but then quickly repent. 

An-Nisa 4:21 [17] 26 

II. From Hilm to Islam 

As the word jahiliyyah itself shows, the word jahl — the first and the 
second meaning — is one of the most important key-terms in the 
Qur’an. Without a right understanding of this concept we would not 
be able to put the new religious conception of Islam in the right place 
in the history of the religious thought of the Arabs. But, as we have 
seen, the two fundamental meanings of jahl was sharply opposed to 
the concept of hilm in pre-lslamic times. Where is it now, this 
concept of hilm, in the Qur’anic system? 

Apparently the word hilm no longer appears on the stage in an 
important role except when it is used in reference to God Himself. 
“Allah is Halim” — this seems to be the only form under which the 
concept occurs in the Qur’an in a truly significant way. The hilm that 
used to be one of the most conspicuous features of the |>re-Islamic 
mentality, that used to appear almost everywhere in pre-lslamic 
poetry whenever the poets sang in praise of themselves or others, 
seems to have ceased to play any decisive role, as a human attribute. 
What docs this mean? Does this mean that the concept, which had 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jdhiliyyah and Islam 


once been so important in the ethical life of the Arabs disappeared 
completely with the rise of the new religion? My answer to this 
question is in the negative. The explanation I have given of the pair, 
jahl-hilm , will have made it clear that the idea of hilm itself continues 
to live in the Qur’anic conception of human nature. It is still palpably 
there, not as a definite concept, but diffused throughout the Qur’an. 
In a certain sense, the Qur’an as a whole is dominated by the very 
spirit of hilm. The constant exhortation to kindness (ihsdn) in human 
relations, the emphasis laid on justice ( r adl ), the forbidding of wrong- 
ful violence (; zulm ), the bidding of abstinence and control of passions, 
the criticism of groundless pride and arrogance — all are concrete 
manifestations of this spirit of hilm. 

But there is something far more important than this. This 
particular pattern of human behavior called jahl is now in the Qur’an 
directed toward God Himself. Hitherto in the pre-Islamic conception 
jahl had nothing at all to do with God or gods. It was concerned 
exclusively with human beings in their relations with each other; that 
is to say, jahl was a peculiar attitude of a man toward another man 
or other men. In short jahl , whether good or bad, was exclusively a 
matter of man-to-man relation. 

But now with the rise of Islam in Makkah we witness a different 
and quite a new situation arising among the Arabs. As noted above 
the concept of jahl is the center of an important network of concepts 
intimately associated with each other, such as pride in human power, 
limitless self-confidence, self-sufficiency, refusal to bow before any 
superior authority, keen sense of honor, haughty attitude of mockery 
toward one’s inferiors, etc. The whole network of these concepts is 
now in the Qur’an directed toward the Prophet Muhammad and the 
Book revealed through him, the Divine dyat, and consequently and 
ultimately toward God Himself. 

In other words, the Qur’an interprets the attitude of hostility 
shown by the pagan Arabs toward Divine guidance (huda) in terms 
of this conceptual network of jahl . According to the Qur’an the 
pagan attitude of hostility is nothing but a concrete manifestation 
of this ya/*/-mentality which has been so characteristic of the pre- 
Islamic Arabs. 

God (II) 

man man 

But we must notice that, if interpreted in this way, jahl is no 
longer what it has been; a radical shift of emphasis has occurred in 
its structure. For in this interpretation, jahl is no longer a ‘horizontal’, 
i.e. human relation (Direction /); it is a relation between man and 
God. Here we see pagan Arabs taking the attitude of jahl toward God 
(Direction II), which is, from the point of view of the Qur’an, an 
incredible presumptuousness on the part of man, for man is 
essentially an ‘ahd (“absolutely humble servant”), and should be 
nothing else. So jahl in this sense must be banished from the 
presence of the great Lord. What will remain behind? Quite naturally 
the opposite concept of hilm. And this is the only logical conse- 
quence, for, in general, when the concept A and the concept B stand 
opposed to each other, the negation of A logically means the 
affirmation of B. And as a matter of fact, in pre-Islamic times, there 
was between jahl and hilm precisely such a relation. 

But in the new Islamic conception, this relation does not hold 
between the two concepts when they are directed toward God. As 
long as jahl has been a purely human behavior-pattern, its negation 
has always meant hilm. In such a situation, when you are told that 
you should not act toward your brethren in a jahil way, it necessarily 
implies that you should act in a halfm way. But here in the presence 
of the great Lord, where man is His ‘ abd , and should act as behooves 
an 'abd, this either-ya/*/-or-/j ilm formula is no longer valid. As an 
attitude of man toward God, his Lord, jahl is of course out of 
question, but for that matter hilm is equally out of question, because, 
as we have already seen, hilm is essentially based on the concept of 
‘power’ (qudrah). As conscious control of one’s own feelings and 
emotions, as forbearance, and patience, outwardly it looks like mere 
meekness and calmness, but behind it there always is the clearest 
consciousness of one’s own superior power which may at any 
moment linnsfoim itsell into a terrible outburst of anger. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 


This is certainly not the proper attitude for man to take toward 
God who is his Lord. This cannot be the attitude of an 'abd. 


Kafir believer 

As noted above, the Qur’an interprets the Kafirs’ attitude of 
hostility and non-submission as an extreme case of human arrogance 
stemming from the hamiyyah al-jahiliyyah. In short, Kafirs dare to 
take this incredible attitude of jahl toward God. This does not imply, 
however that a real believer should take the alternative attitude of 
hilm toward God (as shown in the Diagram). For in the Qur’anic 
view, hilm would be no less an outrageous act of going beyond the 
bounds of man than taking the attitude of jahl. 

A real believer, i.e. a real ‘abd (servant) in the fullest sense of 
the word, should go far beyond the degree of hilm in the direction of 
humbleness and humility before God. All consciousness of self- 
sufficiency and power should be abandoned; absolute submission is 
what is required of him. But when ‘humbleness’ reaches this degree, 
it is no longer hilm ; it is islam. 

Thus we see how the concept of islam is historically affiliated 
with, and yet at the same time clearly distinguished from, the old 
concept of hilm. From the Qur’anic point of view, islam in the sense 
of absolute submission and self-surrender was not a simple downright 
negation and rejection of hilm; it was rather a continuation and 
development of hilm. The new conception pushed ahead and brought 
this time-honored virtue of the Arabs to its extreme limit, which was 
so extreme, indeed, that the concept had to go beyond its original 
boundary and transform itself into something quite different from it: 
islam. The concept of islam was, in this respect, a radical modi- 
fication of the concept of hilm, which was necessitated by the very 
fact that now the object with which man was confronted was no 
longer an ordinary person, but the majestic figure of his own Lord. 

This is what 1 meant earlier by saying that in a certain sense 
hilm was the pre-religious, prc-lslamic form of Islam But of course 

the concept of hilm itself had to disappear from the stage as a basic 
religious attitude of man toward God, for in a ‘servant’ serving his 
master sincerely, there should not be even the slightest sense of self- 
sufficiency and superiority. But the concept of hilm cannot 
subsist if it is deprived of this latter element. In the Qur’anic 
conception, only God is fully entitled to be halim — toward His 
servants, not vice versa. 

The fact that the concept of hilm as a human attribute ceases to 
be active in the Qur’an suggests that here a new conceptual organ- 
ization is under way, a new ‘articulation’, to use one of the technical 
terms which I explained earlier, of the human reality. According to 
this new conceptual articulation, the vast field which was once 
covered by the concept of hilm has to be entirely reorganized: new 
lines are being drawn, and new sections are coming into being. 

Once the opposition was: jahil . . . halim. 

Now in the Qur’an, the concept of hilm as the opposite of jahl 
is giving place to a number of new concepts, the most important of 
which is islam with all that is implied by the word. 

At the same time, the concept of jahil itself, which still plays a 
considerable role in the Qur’anic world-view as a typical attitude of 
the obstinate and stubborn unbelievers, is being superseded by a still 
more important concept — that of kafir, again with all that the word 
implies. And this brings into being, a new opposition: kafir . . . 

This teaches us that behind these two terms we have to read all 
the religious, and ethical implications of the old contrast between 
jahil and halim, but in an entirely new light coming from the drastic 
reorganization of the concepts. 

III. The Conception of Religion (Din) as ‘Obedience’ 

It is not without some hesitation that I take, up this problem for 
discussion in this place, because the whole matter is wrapped in 
philological uncertainties that are almost hopelessly difficult to clear 
up. The major argument of this section must necessarily be highly 
problematical because the key word din (religion) which forms the 
very center of the whole discussion is itself problematical as regards 
its original meaning. 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

If, in spite of all this, I have decided not to renounce wholly the 
attempt to analyze the meaning structure of this word, it is mainly for 
a reason that is of particular relevance to the topic of this chapter, the 
Lord-servant relation between God and man: namely, because the 
meaning of the word din contains, among others a remarkable 
semantic element of ‘obedience’ (ta‘ah) and ‘servant-ness’ 
(‘ ubudiyyah ). To be sure, it is not certain whether the meaning of 
‘religion’ may be traced back to that of ‘obedience’ and ‘servant- 
ness’. But this is not an impossibility. Besides, the Qur’an, as we 
shall see presently, consciously connects these two concepts with one 

Din is certainly one of the most controversial words in the whole 
Qur’anic vocabulary. The trouble with us, however, is that we cannot 
in any way lightly pass over the difficulty by simply disregarding the 
word, because it is an extremely important key-term in the Qur’an. 
In any case, we must begin by admitting that it is one of the most 
difficult Qur’anic key-terms to handle semantically. The etymology 
itself is uncertain, to begin with. Outwardly we have before our eyes 
one simple monosyllabic word; but it is quite possible that we have, 
in reality, more than one word under exactly the same form. That is 
to say, two or more independent words going back to different 
sources may have come to assume in course of time one and the 
same form. Besides, there is also possibility of some at least of its 
various meanings being of foreign origin. 

The word dm has two important meanings distinguishable in the 
Qur’an: (1) religion and (2) judgment. According to some scholars, 27 
of these two fundamental meanings, the first Le., ‘religion’ is of 
Persian origin, den in Middle Persian meaning roughly ‘(systematic) 
religion’, 28 and the second, that of ‘judgment’ goes back to Hebrew; 
the Hebrew word dm means ‘judgment’; moreover the particular 
combination ‘Day of Judgment’ (yawm al-dln ) is so typically Jewish. 

Thus we are here faced with a very complex and complicated 
problem. As regards this foreign origin theory I fully admit that it is 
not impossible, but at the same time I cannot help feeling somehow 
that this is simplifying the matter too much. Before resorting to this 
kind of explanation, we should, I think, first try to see whether it is 
not possible to explain the word within the confines of Arabic itself. 
By this I do not of course imply that there should be one original 
meaning attached to the root DYN to which all the various meanings 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 24 1 

might be reduced. This is quite impossible linguistically. In a ease 
like this a modem linguist assumes from the very beginning the exis- 
tence of more than one independent root under one common form 
The phenomenon is one of ‘pure polysemy’. 

With this in view, let us begin by noting that an examination of 
pre-Islamic literature brings to light the three following root 
meanings: (1) ‘custom’, ‘habit’, (2) ‘requital’, and (3) ‘obedience’. 

The first of these three would be simply dismissed as of no 
relevance to our present topic, if it were not for the fact that there is 
a possibility of our deriving the meaning of ‘ritual practices’ attached 
as an important semantic element to the word din from this root 
meaning of ‘custom’. But this is capable also of being explained as 
a case of ‘reification’ of the more fundamental concept of ‘religion’ 
in the sense of ‘personal faith’. However this may be, I must content 
myself here with giving one example from Jahill literature. 

This is part of an elegy which a poet of the Hudhayl tribe 
composed bewailing the death of a dear friend. 

All those around me have fallen asleep, and once again there comes 
back to me my sorrow that renews itself. There comes back to me 
again my habitual state (din), and I feel as if between the ribs of my 
breast (/.e., within my breast) there were a string of lute fully stretched 
(i.e., my breast resounds with sobbing like the sound of a stretched 
string of a musical instrument). 29 

Turning now to the second root meaning, ‘requital’, we may do 
well to remark at the outset that the word din with this meaning is 
also found very frequently in pre-Islamic poetry. Here is a typical 
example of it 30 out of a great number. 

ivf p fcto U 

l t . * t * t '' 

j — £j\ L* — u 

(We I HU I borne their wrong very patiently), but when their wrong 
btvame m> evident, and began to show itself' so nakedly that there 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 


remained nothing but our taking an offensive attitude on our part, we 
(rose up) and requited ( dinna , a verbal form corresponding to din) 
them as they had requited us (Le., as they had done wrong to us — the 
last expression is what is known in rhetoric as mushakalah , the phrase 
being equivalent to danna-hum ka-md fa ( alu). 

particular perspective crystallized in this word represents a global 
view of the matter which enables us to consider the same thing from 
both ends. 


The Qur’an, too, uses the same word in a verbal form — passive 
participle — with exactly the same basic meaning in the Surah al- 

What! (the unbelievers ask sarcastically) when we are dead and 
have become dust and bones, shall we then be requited 

Al-Saffdt, 37:16 

It is quite significant for our present purposes that this is said 
precisely in reference to the concept of the Day of Judgment. That is 
to say, the Day of Judgment (yawm al-din) is exactly the day on 
which all men without exception will be requited {madinun) each 
according to what he has done in the present world. And this is the 
meaning of din in this particular combination. 

As is evident, the meaning of ‘requital’, i.e. ‘judgment’, in this 
context is of supreme importance in the world-view of the Qur’an. 
But its proper place is in the semantic field of eschatology. It is not 
of direct relevance to our present topic. What is directly relevant to 
it is the third root meaning of din. 

The third root meaning of the word din is, as we have indicated 
above, ‘obedience’. To be very strict, this understanding is not exact 
because ‘obedience’ represents only one aspect of the matter. 
Properly speaking, din (or the verb dana) belongs to that large 
category of words known as addad, i.e. words having two contrary 

In other terms, the word din has two opposite faces, one positive 
and the other negative. On its positive side, it means “to subdue, 
oppress, govern by power”, and on its negative side it means “to 
submit, yield, to be obedient and submissive”. There is nothing 
surprising about this. As many other words of this category, the 


A ft. B 


This is why in many cases the same word din is capable of 
being interpreted as both qahr (exercise of superior power in 
subduing others) and ta 'ah (obedience), without our being able to tell 
which of these two possible ways of interpretation is right. The truth 
of the matter is that both are meant at the same time without 
distinction, the concept of din being comprehensive of these two 
contrary directions. 

The classical example of it is provided by a verse by ‘Amr b 
Kulthflm: 31 

Ljj b ya>- ul <uJiip aid* Ujjj 

We have inherited the glory of (one of our forefathers) ‘Alqamah; it 
is he who has made lawful to us {i.e. who has conquered for us) many 
strongholds of glory by force {dinan=qahran ) — 


reducing them to the state of absolute obedience and submissiveness 


The word seems to show the same conceptual ‘ambivalence’, 
when Zuhayr b. Abl Sulma, describing the actual situation of his tribe 
which is in complete disorder and confusion, says: 

^j!dl ^ y The din is in utter confusion. 

This must mean that the tribe is in the state of anarchy so that 
nobody is certain as to who is to rule and who is to obey/ 

The same is probably true of the expression Jidinifulan * 2 which 
is very common in prc-Islamic poetry, “in somebody’s din". The 
expression belongs, in my opinion, to this category, although the old 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

scholiasts almost unanimously take this word in the sense of 
‘obedience’. Here is a typical example: 

^ ol-l ^ cJL- 

The poet here threatens a man of Banu Asad who has done him 
wrong, and says: 

[The poisoned arrow of my satire ( hija ’) will reach you and overtake 
you] even if you (flee from me and) settle down in the Wadi Jaww 
among Banu Asad in ‘ Ajnr’s dTn y and even if Fadak separates between 
us. 33 

‘Amr referred to in this verse is the famous king of Hlrah, ‘Amr 
b. Hind b. al-Mundhir Ma’ al-Sama’ and the phrase Ji dini ‘ Amr 
means in this context your becoming a subject of ‘Amr and thereby 
putting yourself under the “protection of his power”. Thus the 
concept of din here comprises both ‘obedience’ (td'ah) and 
‘authority’ (sultan). In other word, the same thing is being looked at 
from two opposite sides: 


Looked at from the side of King ‘Amr, it is his sultan, 
‘authority’ or ‘protective power’, but from the side of the man who 
shelters himself behind the royal influence, it is ta ‘ah (obedience) to 
the king. 

This interpretation must, I think, be applied to the Qur’anic 
verse 12:76, where we are told how Joseph in Egypt succeeds, by a 
clever trick, to detain his younger brother Benjamin in custody. 

gJLJl eL>-l JL-G 015** L* ■ ° •’ f) 

of mi 

( Thus We contrived for Joseph 's sake); he could not have kept 
his brother in the din of the Egyptian king, except that God 


Yusuf 12:76 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 


This phrase is usually taken to mean “according to the king’s 
law” {ft dini a!-malik=fi shar'i al-malik, or ft qanuni-hi). This is, I 
think, one of the instances of reading into the Qur’an a later 
conception that could only arise after the concept of shar‘ as 
‘religious law’ had been well established. 

In the same way, the word din may be taken in the sense of both 
“humble obedience” and “absolute rule” in 16:54 [52], an excee- 
dingly beautiful passage which describes how all things in the 
heavens and the earth are “making prostration before God” expressing 
thereby profound humility and absolute obedience. 

I dj ^r^jMlj L dj^t> 

To God belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. His 

is the din for ever! 

Al-Nahl, 16:54 [52] 

The word din in this verse has — if the above interpretation is 
right — a double meaning. On the one hand, it means the absolute 
Sultan of God, and, on the other, i.e. if looked at from the side of 
His creature, it means “absolute obedience”. 

Very often, however, the word is used in pre-Islamic poetry in 
the more specified sense of ‘obedience’, ‘being ruled’ and ‘being a 

(*-f* ^>LJl jjz l_jji 

They refused to be ruled by the kings, for they were so filled with self- 

confidence; • 

{laqah is the infinitive of the verb laqiha meaning to ‘conceive’, 
‘become pregnant’, here in the metaphorical sense of ‘being pregnant 
with self-confidence’). 34 

We may do well to compare this with verse 25 of the 
Mu'allaqah of ‘Amr b. Kulthum where exactly the same thought is 
expressed by means of the verb dana itself: 

O' dJLJl dlLi 

We used to disobey the king in those days for fear of becoming his 



God and Man in the Qur’an 

Similarly in the following verse by an anonymous poet: 

Whenever he attended the tribal gathering or girded on a sword, even 
the haughtiest men became humble to him just like mangy camels obey 
docilely the man who smears them with pitch. 35 

The reference is to the fact that the mangy camels show themselves 
passively obedient to the man who smears their bodies with ointment, 
because it makes them feel pleasant. 

This concept of absolute obedience and humble submission with 
a tacit understanding that there is behind the stage someone 
exercising an overwhelming power and domination may very well 
have been the origrin of the important meaning of ‘religion’ attached 
to the word din. And if this is so it would be quite unnecessary to go 
beyond the limits of Arabic and seek its origin in the Persian word 
din (MP den , Avest. daena). The formal coincidence might have been 
purely accidental. 36 I think this is quite possible and probable, 
because this conception of religion based on the image of a 
submissive servant ruled absolutely by a powerful king is quite in 
line with the typically Semitic mode of thinking. 

I do not think it a pure accident that in the Qur’an, in two 
crucial passages, the word din is virtually defined in terms of ' abada , 
i.e. ‘to worship God’ in the sense of “serving Him as a humble 
servant who obeys his master”. 

^ iif ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ aj ^ 

O men , if you are in doubt of my religion (dim), then (I declare 
that) I serve (a‘budu) not those whom you serve (ta'buduna) 
apart from God, but I serve (a f budu) God? 1 

Yunus , 10:104 

toil L* JjXjIp JLif Yj ijjoi C Ul 'Vj 


Jdhiliyyah and Islam 


O unbelievers , I serve (a ( budu) not what you serve (ta ‘ budiina ), 
nor do you serve what I serve. And I shall never serve what you 
serve, nor will you serve what I serve. To you your religion 
(dlnu-kum) and to me my religion (dim). 

Al-Kdfirun , 109:1-6 

Equally remarkable is the combination in the following verse 3K 
of the verb ‘ abada with the expression “making the religion (din) 
sincere” with which we are already familiar: 

d l .,a 1.>^ dll Ol 

I have been commanded to serve (a'buda) God making my 
religion (din) pure and sincere. 

Al Zumar, 39:14 [11] 

The combination of din with ' abada in the passages just quoted 
cannot possibly be merely contextual. It is understandable only on the 
supposition that there is a profound inner connection between the two 
concepts. These passages can be taken almost as a definition of the 
word din suggesting how it should be understood rightly. 

It is worthy to be pointed out, too, that, at a more formalized 
level, the same word din is also associated in the Qur’an with the 
word islam. We must remember in this connection that, as we have 
seen above, the concept of islam was, originally at least, based on the 
conception of man’s being a ‘submissive’ servant of God. 

Verily, the (true) religion (din) with God is Islam. 

Ali * Imran , 3:17 [19] 


This day I have perfected your religion (din), and completed 
My favor unto you t and I have approved Islam for your 
religion (din). 

Al-Md'idah, 5:5 1 3 1 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jahiiiyyah and Islam 


According to Dr. Wilfred Cantwell Smith 39 the word ‘religion’ 
in general may be taken in two different, although closely related, 
senses; one is ‘religion’ as a deep personal matter; the existential act 
of each individual person of believing in something, that is, in short, 
‘faith’; and the other is ‘religion’ in a ‘reified’ sense, i.e. as 
something common to a community, an objective communal matter, 
comprising all the creeds and ritual practices shared by all members 
of that community. Both of these menaings are found in the Qur’an 
and this double usage of the same word seems to go back to 
Jahiiiyyah , although in Jahiiiyyah , except perhaps in Jewish and 
Christian circles, ‘religion’ as a personal existential act does not seem 
to have been clearly formulated and clearly distinguished from 
‘religion’ in the sense of a whole body of ritual practices. Perhaps we 
should rather think that such a distinction itself was something quite 
alien to the religious consciousness of the pre-Islamic Arabs. Perhaps 
in looking for such a distinction in jahilT thought we are 
unconsciously trying to read into it a conception which is a product 
of later ages. 

When for example, the poet al-Nabighah says, in reference to the 
Christians of Ghassan, 40 dinu-hum qawTmun we cannot decide defi- 
nitely whether he means that their faith is steadfast or their religion, 
Christianity, is an upright religion. Likewise when the Hanlf poet 
Umayyah calls his standpoint dm al-hanifiyyah , “the Hanifitic 
religion”, it is not clear whether what is meant is ‘reified’ religion on 
a non-reified personal faith — perhaps both at the same time, we 
should say, if we are to strict to this basic distinction. 

As to the meaning of din as a system of ritual practices it is 
quite certain that the concept was firmly established in the mind of 
pre-Islamic Arabs. I will give here a most interesting example. 41 

-A* Jl LJ ^ 

The poet is taking leave of a beautiful girl who is trying to 
tempt him, and declares that he has now more serious things to be 
concerned with than love-making. Wadd , by the way, is a pagan idol 
mentioned also in the Qur’an (71:22 [23]). 

May Wadd give you a long life! (i.e. fare you well!) for dalliance with 
women is no longer lawful to me, since I have firmly made up my 

mind to concentrate upon din. 

The context shows clearly that ‘religion’ (dm) in this verse refers 
to the pagan, pre-Islamic custom of pilgrimage to Makkah. The poet 
says that now that he made up his mind firmly and seriously to make 
his pilgrimage to Makkah, sporting with women is haram. The point 
of immediate relevance to our present topic is that here we have a 
case in which the word din is used clearly in the sense of hajj , i.e. 
‘pilgrimage’ as a ritual. 

This particular usage of the word dm by al-Nabighah would 
seem to suggest that when the pre-Islamic Arabs used the 
expression din al-nasara (“the religion of the Christians ), for 
example, they presumably meant thereby ‘religion’ as something 
reified, an objectively established thing, i.e. a whole system 
consisting of a certain number of creeds and ritual practices that arc 
shared by a community. 42 

The Qur’an uses the word obviously in the reified and non- 
reified senses. The best and the simplest example of non-reified type 
is supplied by the expression “making the din sincere”, where the 
word din cannot but mean personal faith in God, whether it be just 
momentary or permanent. As an example of the reified use, we may 
cite 3:66 [73], where the Jews are depicted saying among themselves: 

Do not trust except those who follow your religion . 

Ali ‘Imran, 3:66 [73] 

In the verse already quoted above (verse 5 [3]) which runs, 
“This day I have perfected your religion . . . and I have approved 
islam for your religion”, din seems to mean almost an objective, 
reified ‘religion’. 

If we go still further in this direction i.e. the direction of 
reification, than the concept changes into millah, which is religion as 
an objective ‘thing’ in the full sense of the word, a formal system of 
creed and rituals which constitutes the principle of unity for a 
particular religious community and works as the basis of its social 
life. Unlike the word din which still retains the original connotation 
of personal existential, we might say-- faith and belief however far 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

we may go in the direction of reification, millah connotes something 
rigid, objective, formal and it reminds us always of the existence of 
a society based one common religion. 

The relation between these two key-terms may be shown by this 
simple diagram: 

-£L millah 

as an existential act or din completely reified 

process of reification 

Din originates from a purely personal ‘obedience’, as we have 
seen. It goes on being reified; in the last stages of this development 
approaching more and more the concept of millah, din becomes 
almost synonymous with the latter. This point will become clear if 
we compare 3:66 [73] which we have quoted above with 2:114 
[120] where exactly the same situation is referred to by means of 
millah instead of din. 

Cj 3 V. iiii fjy 

Neither the Jews nor Christians will ever be satisfied with thee, 
unless thou follow their religion (millah). 

Al-Baqarah, 2:114 [120] 

The synonymity of dm and millah appears more clearly in 6: 162 
[161] where we read: 

As for me, my Lord has guided me to a straight path, a right 
religion (din) the religion (millah) of Abraham who was a man 
of pure monotheism. 

Al-An'am, 6:162 [161] 

It is significant that we see here three important concepts 
equated with each other, straight path=right din=millah of Abraham. 

But if we retrace our steps towards the starting point (din), then 
we will see dm and millah becoming more and more clearly dis- 

Jahiliyyah and Islam 


tinguished from each other, and therefore, non-interchangeable. For 
example, in 39:2 we read: 

CailsJ illl jkll L.u£il illij ytjf Ulk 

Verily , we have sent down to thee the Book with truth . So 
worship (u‘bud, " serve as a servant ”) God , making the din 
sincere for Him . 

Al-Zumar , 39:2 

Here God addresses these words directly to the Prophet 
Muhammad and exhorts him to serve God as behooves His servant. 
It is evidently impossible to replace the word din in this context by 
millah. For here the matter concerns the religious attitude of each 
individual person, and not the objectively formalized system of 
religion. Millah is essentially a matter of ummah , while dm in its 
original, non-reified, phase, is a matter of each individual believer. 


1. 5:93 [92]. 

2. 2:110 [118]. 

3. 57:15 [16]. 

4. 6:42 [43]. 

5. Like most of the Qur’anic key-terms, islam, or at least its verbal form 

aslama , has its pre-Islamic history. In Jahiliyyah the word meant 
“giving over” in general. To be more precise, aslama means that a man 
gives over something which is particularly dear to him, precious to 
him, something which is difficult or painful for him to abandon, to 
somebody who demands it. This precious something may be his own 
self, which is of course, in most cases, the most precious possession a 
man has in his hand; (in which case it means naturally total 
submission, self-surrendering); it may also be somebody else, one of 
his dear friends or his tribesmen (in which case it would mean 
betrayal). In any case the basic meaning is that of giving/over one’s 
precious possession to somebody else. / 

6. ‘AbTd b. al-Abras, Dfwan , XL, v. 20. 

7. Cf also what Prof M. Watt says on these two words in his 
Muhammad at Mecca , pp. 66-67. 

H. " Wiin iM unter ‘al-Gahilijju’ zu vcrstehcn?” ( Muhammadanischv 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Studien I, pp. 219-228). 

9. See among others, for example, the excellent summary by Prof. A. J. 
Arberry in his The Seven Odes , pp. 251-253. 

10. For example, al-Hamasah , DCCLXVIII, v. 3. 

11. al-Hamasah , DCCLXII, v. 1. 

12. al-Mufaddaliyyat , XXI, v. 1. 

13. XIV, v. 8. The poet is al-Muzarrid. 

14. al-Hamasah , CDXIII, v. 5. 

15. For instance, 3:149 [155]: 


Verily God is All-forgiving, Halim. 

Examples abound in the Qur’an. 

16. By an anonymous poet of Banu Faq‘as, al-Hamasah , L, v. 2. 

17. 1 as Layla al-Akhyaliyyah says, al-Hamdsah, DCXCIX,\. 1. 

18. akhda ‘ properly means “the occipital artery”. 

19. Qays b. Zuhayr, a pre-Islamic poet, al-Hamasah , CXLVII, v. 4. 

20. The concept itself has been subjected to a detailed semantical analysis 
in my Structure , pp. 152-159. 

2 1 . al-Hamasah , TibrTzI recession, CCIII, v. 6. 

22. al-Marrar b Sa‘Td, al-Hamasah , CDI, vv. 1-2. 

23. See M. Watt, Muhammad at Mecca , pp. 10-11. 

24. Abu Dhu’ayb, DTwdn al-Hudhaliyym , I, p. 67, v. 2. 

25. al-Majam al-Hadfthah ed. al-Bustanl, Vol. II, p. 29. 

26. Also 6:54. 

27. Cf. Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur'an, 

Baroda, 1938. 

28. Cf. Wilfred C. Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion , New York, 
1963, pp. 287-289. 

29. Sa‘Tdah b. Ju’ayyah, DTwdn al-Hudhaliyym, I, p. 236, vv. 122. 

30. Sahl b. Shaban, al-Hamasah, II, v. 4. 

31. Muallaqah , v. 61. 

32. 0* ^ ^ 

33. DTwdn Zuhayr , p. 138, v. 1. 

34. ‘Abld b. al-Abras, DTwdn , VI, v. 2. 

35. al-Hamasah , DCCIX, v. 1. 

36. Contrast this with an adverse view advocated by Dr. Wilfred C. Smith 
in his book, The Meaning and End of Religion (pp. 98-102), according 
to which the Arabic word din was a local variety of an ‘international 
term’ of Persian origin, dm or den , which had spread widely over the 
countries of the Middle East. 

37. a'hudu, ta'budtina : from the root ‘BD , from which comes the word 

Jdhiliyyah and Islam 


'abd (servant, slave). 

38. It goes without saying that in this and similar contexts “making the 
religion sincere” does not imply at all ‘momentary sincerity’ as it docs 
in the case of Kafirs. 

39. op. cit. pp. 51-53. 

40. Quoted above, see Chapter 4, section IV. 

41. al-Nabighah, DTwdn, p. 142, v. 3. This famous and extremely important 
verse has long been misunderstood in various ways in the West. For 
the details, see C. A. Nallino, “II verso di an-Nabighah sul dio Wadd”, 
in Raccolta di Scritti, Vol. Ill, VI. In the DTwdn, the second word 
wadd is replaced by rabbT (“My Lord”). That this is not the original 
form is known from Yaqut’s Geographical Dictionary Mu jam al- 
Bulddn (ed. Wiistenfeld IV, 913). 

42. Theodore Noldeke in his Beitrage zur Kenntniss der Poesie der alten 
Araber (Hannover, 1864), p. 52, cites from al-Aghdm an interesting 
verse in which a Jew contemporary of the Prophet uses the expression 
dm Muhammad in reference to Islam. 

Ethical Relation Between God and Man 


Ethical Relation Between 
God and Man 

I. God of Mercy 

We have, in what precedes, dealt with three different aspects of the 
basic personal relation between God and man. In this chapter, we 
turn to the fourth — and last, according to our classification — relation 
between them i.e. the ethical relation. It is one of the most 
conspicuous features of the religious thought that has originated in 
the Semitic world, whether of Judaism, Christianity or Islam, that the 
concept of God is essentially ethical. And since, in this view God 
Himself is essentially ethical, the relation between God and man must 
also be of an ethical nature. In other words, God acts towards man 
in an ethical way, that is, as God of Justice and Goodness, and man, 
correspondingly, is expected to respond to this Divine initiative also 
in an ethical way. Whether man really does respond in the right 
ethical way, is a crucial and decisive moment in the structure of a 
religion like Islam. It is not a mere matter of human goodness or 
badness as it used to be in pre-Islamic times; ethics is now an 
integral part of religion; the whole religion is involved in it, and is 
indeed dependent on the ethical response of man. 

From this point of view, the God of the Qur’an shows two diff- 
erent as aspects that are fundamentally opposed to each other. For a 
pious, believing mind, these two aspects are but two different sides 
of one and the same God, but for the logic of ordinary reason, they 



would seem contradictory, and, in fact, many thinkers have been at 
pains to reconcile these two aspects with one .another. The problem 
is common to both the Qur’an and the Old Testament. 

In one of these two aspects Allah reveals Himself as God oi 
infinite goodness and benevolence, God of unfathomable love and 
mercy, a gracious, a merciful and forgiving God. This aspect of God 
is referred to in the Qur’an by such key- words as ni ’mah (favor), fad I 
(bounty), rahmah (mercy), maghfirah (forgiveness) and the like. 

The problem has been so much discussed and so fully dealt with 
by all those who have studied the Qur’an and Islam from the reli- 
gious point of view that I have almost nothing more to add. 1 

Only one point must be mentioned here, which is more directly 
relevant to the purpose of the present study. The fact that God acts 
towards man in such a gracious way and shows all sorts of goodness 
and kind consideration in the form of ayat (signs) — this initial fact 
already determines the only right response possible on the part of 
human beings. And that response is ‘thankfulness’ or ‘gratitude’ 
(. shukr ), thankfulness for all the favors He is bestowing upon them. 
But as I have said before, this response is conceivable only on the 
basis of a right understanding and estimation of the Divine ayat. 
Thankfulness in this sense is possible only when man has grasped the 
meaning of the ayat. 

ayat ► 'aql ► shukr 

"signs" "understanding" "thankfulness" 

This is the typical scheme of the conceptual associations relating 
to this phenomenon. And thus, for the first time in the history of 
ideas among the Arabs, shukr (thankfulness) became a religious 
concept. The tremendous importance of this new concept will be seer 
from the fact that it is, so to speak, the human counterpart of the 
initial Divine Goodness, and is, in this way, inseparably linked with 
one of the most characteristic aspects of the Divine nature, and alsc 
from the fact that from ‘thankfulness’ to ‘belief or ‘faith’ it is 
merely a matter of one step, so much so that in many cases shukr is 
in the Qur’an almost synonymous with Fman (belief). This we saw 
already when we discussed the concept of ayah. 

The opposite of shukr is kufr, the proper meaning of which is 
‘ungratefulness’ or ‘ingratitude’. Without any further explanation ii 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

will be quite easy to see how this concept of ingratitude, which 
before Islam, had nothing at all to do with religion, came to assume 
in the Qur’anic system a peculiarly religious significance. 

But before it began to be understood in this religious sense, the 
conceptual structure itself was there in Jahiliyyah firmly established. 
And no wonder, for even in ordinary mundane relations among men 
the human ethics everywhere demands the actualization of this struc- 
ture. When somebody has shown you some special favor, that is, has 
conferred upon you a ni ‘mah, your natural reaction to it should be 
gratitude and thankfulness. This is one of the most basic laws 
governing the ethical relations among men. But it is also an 
undeniable fact that there is an alternative reaction, which violates 
this very basic moral law. And unfortunately, the human nature 
seems to incite and instigate man to act very often in this way. As 
the Qur’an itself says: 

*i'j J oil— 

Verily man is very ungrateful to his Lord! 

Al-'Adiyat, 100:6 2 

Verily, man is clearly ungrateful! 

Al-Zukhruf 43:14 [15] 

Thus, whether religious or non- 
religious, ‘ingratitude’ or ‘ungrate- 
fulness’ is the name of this way of 
responding on the part of a man to 
goodness shown by someone else. 
This structure itself remains the 

same regardless of whether the 
ni ‘mah (favor) that has been confer- 
red upon him be of a secular nature or of a religious nature. And the 
pre-Islamic Arabs also used to live according to the dictates of the 
supreme moral rule: “shukr for ni’mah”. The following verse by a 
poet of the Hudhayl tribe brings out this conceptual structure in a 
very clear and concise form: 

Ethical Relation Between God and Man 


If you thank me, (it is but natural, for by so doing) you would be 
showing gratitude to me for a favor (ni‘mah) I have conferred upon 
you, but if you take the attitude of kufr to me, I will never force upon 
you gratitude to me . 3 

And Salamah b. al-Khurshub, referring to a mare whose 
unusually swift legs saved the life of a man out of the danger of 

A& Si % ikf ^ Qi Ju 

Praise her well with a praise which is fitting, and be not ungrateful 
(takfuran) to her, for there can be no good future for the ungrateful 
(kafir ) 4 

And ‘Antarah, still more tersely: 

yiXJ tAi 

Never be ungrateful for a favor . 5 

The Qur’an takes up this structure just as it is and raises it up to 
a religious level, as it does in many other cases. The conceptual 
structure or formula is still exactly the same, but now it is made to 
work on the higher level of spiritual relation between God and man, 
the ni ‘mah being in this case the Divine favor to which man responds 
either rightly with shukr or wrongly with kufr. 

Quite naturally, the concept of shukr (gratitude) in this particular 
semantic field develops easily into that of sincere ‘faith’ (iman), and 
correspondingly, kufr, losing rapidly the original connotation of 
‘ingratitude’, transforms itself into the concept of ‘disbelief, and thus 
comes to stand in direct conceptual opposition to iman. 

Cfi ill! gJ-4' 

How shall God guide people who turn to disbelief after having 


‘Ali ‘Imran, 3:80 [86] 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Those who are haughty say: As for us, we disbelieve in that 

which you believe in. 

Al-A ‘rdf 7:74 [76] 

This semantic transformation of kufr from ‘ingratitude’ to 
‘disbelief was effected more completely than that of shukr from 
‘gratitude’ to ‘belief, because in this latter case the existence of the 
very word iman made unnecessary, or rather prevented, the growth 
of another word which would replace it. While in the case of 
‘disbelief, there was no such pre-existent word for the concept, and 
so kufr just came in, so to speak, and took the vacant seat. 

II. God of Wrath 

To those who take kufr instead of shukr or iman, that is to those who 
stubbornly refuse to humble themselves before God, and also to those 
who are naturally careless and frivolous who spend their time in 
jesting and playing, laughing, and merry-making, never thinking of 
the Hereafter, in short, ‘indifferent’ and ‘careless’ people 
[ghafilun ) — to those people God shows his other face. 

Here Allah is God of stem unrelaxing justice, the unrelenting 
Judge on the Day of Judgment, terrible in retribution {shadid al- 
‘iqdb). Lord of vengeance (dhu intiqam), whose anger (ghadab ) will 
hurl anybody into min on whom it alights. 6 

This aspect of God has also been fully discussed by all those 
who have ever studied the Qur’an from the religious point of view so 
much so that it would seem unnecessary even to mention it now. So 
here I will only take up the human side of the matter, the problem, 
that is, how according to the Qur’an, man should respond to this 
aspect of God. 

The pivotal point of all this is the eschatological concept of the 
Day of Judgment, with God Himself presiding over everything as the 
stem, strict and righteous judge, before whom men stand only in 
silence with bowed heads. The image of this decisive day should be 
held up constantly before the eyes of men in such a way that it might 
lead them to absolute earnestness, instead of levity and carelessness, 
in life. And this is the dominant note of the Islamic piety. All readers 
of the Qur’an cannot fail to notice, that this note of absolute 

Ethical Relation Between God and Man 


earnestness in life coming from the consciousness of the impending 
Day of Judgment is particularly strong in the Makkan period. This is 
taqwa in its original sense. 

The word taqwa lost its extremely strong eschatological coloring 
as time went on and finally came to mean practically the same thing 
as ‘piety’. But it denoted originally a very peculiar mood connected 
directly with the concept of the Judgment Day. 

Fear God, for surely God is severe in punishment. 

Al-Mct’idah,. 5:3 [2] 

The combination of the three words ittiqa (fear), Allah and 'iqdb 
(punishment) in this short sentence brings out very clearly the basic 
structure of the Qur’anic taqwa in its original fottn. The taqwa in this 
sense is an eschatological concept, meaning as it does “eschatological 
fear of Divine chastisement”. From this original meaning comes the 
meaning of ‘pious fear (of God)’, and then finally, ‘piety’ pure and 

Now what did the word taqwa (or rather the verb ittaqa) mean 
in Jahiliyyahl We must remark in the first place that in pre-Islamic 
times the word was not commonly used in a religious sense at all, 
except perhaps in the particular circle of the HanTfs and those who 
were conspicuously under the influence of Judaism like the poet 
Zuhayr b. Abl Sulma. The word muttaqi (from taqwa), ‘pious 
believer’ (in the monotheistic sense) occurs, as we saw earlier, in the 
poetry of the HanTf poet, Umayyah b. AbT al-Salt; also in the Diwan 
of LabTd, whom I regard as almost a HanTf in his religious outlook. 
Here I give an extremely interesting example from the Diwan of 
Zuhayr b. AbT Sulma. 

p-ry’j 1 isfa i jsj 

The taqwa is of his nature. It is Allah Himself who guards him from 
all fatal false steps and then (the principle of never breaking) ties of 
blood. 7 

That this was not normally the meaning of the word in 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Jahiliyyah must be clear to all readers of pre-Is!amic literature. And 
fortunately enough for our purpose, the verb ittaqa was one of the 
favorite words of the pre-Islam ic poets. We meet with the word 
almost everywhere, always with exactly the same basic conceptual 
structure, and we have a great number of examples at hand. They 
show definitely that the word did not cany any religious connotation, 
let alone, the meaning of ‘piety’. 

What is, then, the basic conceptual structure disclosed by these 
examples? Nothing is more illuminating in this respect than the 
formula given by al-TibnzT in his commentary on DTwan al- 
Hamdsah * which runs: 

ly*-U- Li juj ,SlL Ol sLL'Vl 

Ittaqa means that you place between yourself (,4) and something you 
are afraid of (B), something (C) which might protect you by preventing 
it ( B ) from reaching you. 

In short, it means self-defence by means of something. The general 
situation is this: A man (A) perceives something ( B ) coming towards 
him, which looks dangerous, destructive, or at least harmful. He does 
not like it to reach him; he must stop it before it reaches him and 
does harm to him. So he puts between himself and the thing ( B ) 
something (C) which is strong enough to stop its oncoming. All the 
pre-Islamic instances of this verb, however complex and complicated 
in outward form, are capable of being interpreted in terms of this 
basic formula. Here are a few typical examples. The first one is from 
the Mu ‘allaqah of ‘Antarah: 9 

^ bl 

When (my comrades) put me between themselves and the spears of the 
enemies, (that is to say, when my friends pushed me ahead in front of 
them so that they might protect themselves behind me, I myself being 
their shield), I did not flinch at all; but— so he adds— (to my regret) I 
could not in any case advance very much because there was no more 

place left in front of me (i.e. there were so many enemies in front of 

He said (to himself): I will satisfy my desire (i.e. I will kill the mai 
who has killed my brother), then I (A) will defend myself ( attaqi 
against the enemies (B) (who will surely come to take revenge) witl 
one thousand horses (C) all bridled in support of my cause. 

The next example is somewhat more complicated, albeit with 
exactly the same underlying structure. It comes from DTwan al-Mufa- 
ddaliyyat. The poet is al-MarrSr b. Munqidh" who, although of the 
Umayyad period, composed his poems in the typically Jdhili spirit.: 

^ ^ ^ 

This is part of a description of the she-camel of the poet. My 
she-camel, he says, guards herself ( tattaqi) from being hurt by the 
stony ground with her hard hoofs. Literally: “She puts between 
herself and the ground and sharp flint stones a hard one (i.e. hard 
hoof) which is compact and with its ring of hair still intact.” 

The Qur’an, too, offers an extremely interesting example in 
which the verb ittaqa is used in exactly the same physical, and not 
spiritual, sense. 

Is a man who, on the Day of Resurrection, can only guard 

himself against the evil of Divine chastisement with his face... 

Al-Zumar, 39:25 [24] 

The ironical implication being that on that day his hands, With which 
he ordinarily defends himself against danger, are tied up to his neck 
so thut he has only his face to defend himself with. The sentence 
ilsell is led unfinished; the full meaning is somewhat like this: Is 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

such a man the same as those who are completely safe from 

But this is rather an exceptional case in the Qur’an* there ittaqci 
occurs almost always in contexts of a religious nature. In Jahiliyyah , 
on the contrary, the verb is mostly used in a physical or material 
sense. The utmost to which Jahiliyyah goes in this direction is repre- 
sented by those cases in which the word is used in a moral sense, i.e. 
a degree more spiritualized than the purely physical and material 

The following example 12 is of particular interest in this respect, 
because it discloses the basic structure of this concept as applied to 
the moral sphere of life: 

y ja J 0 jA CJ 

He who puts acts of generosity between his personal honor and (the 
possible reproach by others) will make his honor increase more and 
more, while he who does not guard himself (yattaqi ) in this way 
against invectives will only be reviled. 

It is interesting to note that the first half of the verse forms a 
kind of structural definition of the concept of ittaqa. Exactly the 
same thought is expressed in the following hemistich much more 

" 0 * 

Every man of a noble nature guards himself against blame with 
hospitality. 13 

That is to say, he puts between himself, i.e. his personal honor, and 
the possible blame by others his act of spending his wealth in 
limitless hospitality. 

We may rightly regard these cases in which the conceptual 
structure under discussion is applied to the moral sphere as an 
intermediate stage between the purely material iitiqa and the purely 
spiritual, religious iitiqa. 

The Hanlfitic conception, to which belongs the Qur’anic thought, 
goes a step further and completely spiritualizes this conceptual struc- 
luic. And yet the formal structure itself docs not change Here the 

Ethical Relation Between God and Man 


possible harm ( B ) is no longer an ordinary physical danger, but an 
eschatological danger, i.e., the severe merciless punishment by God 
Himself to be inflicted upon those who refuse to surrender and to 
believe. In this context ittaqa means that one guards oneself against 
the imminent danger of Divine chastisement by putting between it 
and one’s own soul a protective shield of pious obedience and belief. 
This interpretation is confirmed by the view taken by the authors of 
TafsTr al-Jalalayn, according to which the verb ittaqa means “That 
you guard yourself against the ‘iqab (Divine chastisement) by putting 
between it and yourself the turs (shield) of ‘ibadah (worship) — lit. 
‘abd- ness)”. 

This basic structure is apparent in verses like the following: 

Beware of the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones (i.e. idols), the 
Fire prepared for the Kafirs. 

Al-Baqarah, 2:22 [24] 14 

Beware of a day when no soul shall take another ’s place. 

Al-Baqarah, 2:45 [48] 

Psychologically, this is a particular kind of ‘fear’ ( khawj ) — an 
eschatological fear, as is shown by some verses, such as: 

GiU- f*S ifi ills 

Surely therein is a sign for him who fears (khafa) the 
chastisement in the Hereafter. 

Hud, 11:105 [103] 

Say: Surely I fear (akhafu), if I should disobey the command of 
my Lord, the chastisement of a dreadful day. 

Al-An ‘am, 6: 1 5 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

The next verse is particularly important in this respect in that it 
shows the intimate semantic relationship that exists between the 
psychology of fear and taqwa. 


There shall be dark overshadowings of Fire above them , and 
beneath them too (similar) overshadowings . That is, God 
frightens fyukhawwifu, causative form of khawf) therewith His 
servants: O My servants, therefore fear (ittaqu) Me! 

Al-Zumar , 39:18 [16] 

However, in course of time, this intense eschatological coloring 
becomes lighter and lighter until at last the meaning of taqwa reaches 
the stage, at which it has no longer any apparent connection with the 
image of the Day of Judgment and its horrors, and becomes the 
nearest equivalent of ‘piety’. At this stage, taqwa has little or nothing 
to do with the concept of ‘fear’ ( khawj ). This is why, in the Qur’an, 
the word muttaql — the participial form of ittaqa — is often used in the 
sense of a ‘pious believer’ standing in opposition to kafir) 5 

The muttaql at this stage is given a definition in the Qur’an 
itself, which does not differ substantially from that of muslim or 
mu’min. In the Surah al-Baqarah the muttaql is defined as “a man 
who believes in the Unseen, performs the prayer regularly, expends 
of that which God has provided him, who believes in what has been 
sent down to the Prophet Muhammad and what has been sent down 
before Muhammad, and has a firm faith in the Hereafter”. 16 

It is very interesting to observe that this is reflected in the non- 
Qur’anic literature of the earliest Islam, ‘Abdah b. al-TabTb, one of 
the contemporaries of the Prophet says in a poem: 

o* s-ttpyl J)**i dy 

I enjoin upon you the tuqd ( =taqwd ) of God, for it is He who gives to, 
and withholds from, whomsoever He likes all things that is valuable 
and desirable. 17 

Ethical Relation Between Uoa ana man 

Here as we see, taqwa has nothing at all to do with eschatology 
and the fear of punishment. This is clear from the very fact that 
Divine goodness and favor arc mentioned as the reason for which 
man should have taqwa of God. 

III. Wa‘d and Wa‘Td 

We have seen in the preceding that in the Qur’an God shows to men 
two entirely different faces according as men are good or bad in the 
religious sense; (1) a smiling face foreboding a bright future, pleasant 
things to come and (2) a dark angry face foreboding something 
gloomy and fatal. In this sense the problem is directly connected with 
the communicative aspect of the relation between God and man. 

God communicates to man by these two different faces two 
different things concerning the ultimate destiny of man. This aspect 
of the matter is dealt with in the Qur’an in terms of four mutually 
related key-words. 


( 1 !) 

The conceptual structure of the first pair {wa 'ada-aw 'add) may 
be analyzed in the following way. (1) There are on the stage two 
persons A, B (two-person-relation word). (2) A tells B something. 
This means that the concept under discussion is a linguistic one. 
Furthermore, it is not an ordinary linguistic concept, but a weakened 
form of ‘oath’. (3) The content of this information concerns some- 
thing which A will do and which will bring about some new crucial 
situation into which B will be forcibly and unavoidably put. This 
information is given in a conditional form: if B does (or does not) dt 
such and such a thing, then such and such a thing shall happen to B 
(4) If this new situation happens to be something pleasant, delightfu 
and agrecnblc from the point of view of B, then it is wa'adi 
(nominal form wa‘d)\ if, on the contrary, it is something harmful 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

destructive and disagreeable, then it is aw ‘ada (nominal form: wa ‘id). 

In the concrete Qur’anic context, the first pair concerns the 
action of God Himself. In other words, A who informs B of all this 
happens to be God. 

The second pair is of quite a different nature from this. A simple 
analysis of its basic structure will make it clear at once. 

(1) There are on the stage three persons A, B and C (three- 
person-relation word). (2) The general situation, as far as concerns 
the basic relation between A and B, remains exactly the same. Only, 
A, in this case, does not inform B directly of what will happen. There 
is no direct connection between the two. The task of establishing a 
connection is given to another person C. C knows the actual 
situation; he goes from A’s side to B as a ‘messenger’ and tells him 
that such and such a thing is sure to happen to B. In the Qur’an, C 
is of course the Prophet. In this respect the Prophet appears on the 
stage in the capacity of either bashTr or nadhTr, according as the news 
he conveys is something good for B or bad. In the Qur’anic 
conception, this is an extremely important point regarding the 
function of a Prophet. The Qur’an insists constantly that Muhammad 
is only a ‘wamer’. 

Say: Verily I am the clear warner (nadhTr). 

Al-Hijr, 15:89 

Thou art only a Warner (nadhTr). 

Hud, 11:15 [12] 

His function consists in warning unbelieving people that there 
will be Judgment followed by a dreadful pu ni shment in the Hereafter. 
The same is true of the concept of bashTr. Only, there seems to be a 
slight difference between bashTr and nadhTr. According to the ana- 
lysis done by Ibn al-‘Arabr (author of the book Ahkam al-Qur’an ), 18 
al-basharah is not only an information given about something desi- 
rable but, the bashTr should always be the first person to convey the 
good news, awwalu mukhbirin bi-l-mahbiibT, while al-nadhdrah is an 

Ethical Relation Between God and Man 


information given about something unpleasant and anybody who 
imparts this information is nadhTr, the concept does not contain the 
condition of the informant being the first person to do it. 

The following verse of ‘Antarah 19 is interesting in that it presents 
the most important of the related concepts gathered in one place. 

i y j oiSo ' bbi aJ jXi ^ ^ j 

What the poet wants to emphasize is that the future is essentially 
unpredictable so that it is absolute folly to be worried about what is 
yet to come. “How many times”, he says “has a wamer who has 
come to bid us be on our guard against something bad turned out 
ultimately to be a messenger of delightful things bringing a good 

It goes without saying that the second pair is most intimately 
related to the first pair and is based upon it. The following verse 20 
brings out this connection very well. 

c, y> Jys - jf 

Very often a mighty Lord of a kingdom has threatened (aw ’ada) me, 
and warnings from him have reached me before he came to me 

We may notice that in the verse that follows this immediately (44), 
the poet describes this mighty king as choking with rage just as the 
eyes of a leopard in anger are kindled with fire, which shows the 
situation very clearly. 

As regards the contrast between wa ‘ada and aw ‘ada, we must 
remark that in Jahiliyyah, the distinction is sometimes strictly made, 
sometimes not. 

4 tOutfl OUJ>- J 

My nature is such that when I have threatened (aw'ada) him or 
promised ( wa'ada ) him something good, 1 am inclined to leave 
unfulfilled my threat (Vdd-wa^d), but bring to pass my promise 
{maw'id^wu V/), 21 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

Ethical Relation Between God and Man 269 

In this verse which has been attributed also to Tarafah, the most 
definite distinction is made between the two, while in other places the 
two verbs are often used indiscriminately. Likewise, in the Qur’an, 
the distinction is rather loose. Just to give one example: 

j\j JLP 

Allah has promised (wa ' ada ) the hypocrites , men and women , 
and the disbelievers the Fire of Hell. 

Al-Tawbah, 9:69 [68] 

And the Kafirs of Makkah say sarcastically to the Muslims in 
reference to the Day of Judgment: 

When will this promise (wa'd, meaning waTd) come true, if 
what you say is true? 

Yd STn , 36:48 22 

As is well known, this distinction develops into an exceedingly 
important theological problem in early Islam, as is witnessed by the 
rise of a sect in the Mu‘tazilah school of theology known under the 
name of ahl al-wa Td (People of Threat) or al-Wa Tdiyyah headed by 
al-JubbaT. Semantically, this is a very interesting problem, but here 
we must leave the subject untouched because a discussion of 
problems of this sort would take us far beyond the scope of the 
present study. 

6. 20:83 [81] 

I. DTwdn Zuhayr, p. 162, v. 2. 

8. CCLIV, v. 5. 

9. Mu'allaqah v. 64. 

10. Mu'allaqah, v. 36, DTwdn , p. 22, v. 2. 

II. al-Mufaddaliyyat , XVI, v. 30. 

12. Mu‘allaqah, Zuhayr , v. 51. 

13. ‘Amr b. al-Ahtam, al-Hamasah , DCCXIII, v. 4. 

14. The earlier commentators are of the opinion that by “stone” (hijarah) 
is meant “black brimstone” in Hell with which the damned will be 
tormented; cf. al-Tabari, JdmV al-Baydn , ad. loc. 

15. For example, 4:130 [131]. 

16. 2:2-3 [3-4]. 

17. al-Mufaddaliyyat , XXVII, v. 7. 

18. Cairo, 1957, Vol. I, p. 15. 

19. DTwdn , p. 85, v. 5. 

20. The poet is al-Marrar b. Munqidh, al-Mufaddaliyyat , XVI, v. 43. 

21. ‘Amir b. al-Tufayl, DTwdn , Beirut, 1959, XVII, v. 2. 

22. According to al-Farra’ the word wa ( d may be used in two senses: wide 
and narrow. When used in the wide sense it makes no distinction 
between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ( wa'ad-tu-hu khayran, “I promised him 
something good” and wa!ad-tu-hu sharran, “I promised him something 
bad”). In the narrower sense, it is only applied to khayr , leaving the 
“promise of bad things (i.e. threatening)” to wa'Td, cf. Ibn Qutaybah: 
Adab al-Kdtib, Cairo, 1958, pp. 271-272. 


1. For a philological analysis of the key-terms of this field, see Daud 
Rahbar, op. cit , chapter XIII and chapter XVIII. 

2. kanud is a synonym of kafur. 

3. al-‘Ajlfln b. Khulayd, DTwdn al-Hudhliyym y III, p. 113, v. I. 

4. al-Mufaddaliyy&t, V, v. 7. 

5. DTwdn , p. 46, v. 3; nu i md=ni , mah 


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Tarafah: DTwan , ed. Max Seligsohn, Paris,- 1901. 

Taymflr, Mahmud: Mu* jam al-Hadarah , Cairo, 1961. 
al-Tirmidhl: aUSahTh , Cairo, 1934. 

Torrey, C.C.: The Commercial-Theological Terms of the Koran , Leiden, 

Ullmann, Stephen: Semantics — An Introduction to the Science of Meaning , 
Oxford, 1962. 

Umajja ibn Abis Salt: Die unter seinem Namen uberlieferten 
Gedichtfragmente, ed. F. Schulthess, Leipzig, 1911. 

‘Urwah b. al-Ward: DTwan, ed. Karam al-Bustanl, Beirut, 1953. 

Watt, Montgomery: Muhammad at Mecca , Oxford, 1953. 

Watt, Montgomery: Muhammad at Medina , Oxford, 1956. 

Watt, Montgomery: Islam — the Integration of Society, London, 1961. 
Wensinck, A. J.: Muslim Creed, Cambridge, 1932. 

Weisgerber, Leo: Grundformen sprachlicher Weltgestaltung, Koln u. 
Opladen, 1963. 

Yaqut: Mujam al-Buldan , ed. F. Wustenfeld, 6 vols., Leipzig, 1866-73. 
Zuhayr b. AbT Sulma: DTwan, Cairo, 1944. 


Abbasid 45, 60, 95, 118, 119, 121, 

period 20 

Arab authorities of 95 
'abd 29, 71, 72, 78,112,113, 141, 
216,219, 221,237, 238, 253, 

'abd- ness 219, 221 
‘Abdah b. al-Tablb 264 
‘Abld al-Abras 161 
‘Ablah 29, 88, 89, 235 
Abraham 81, 97, 117-119, 250 
‘Adi b. Zayd 109, 110, 115 
'dlam al-ghayb 83, 85 
‘Alqamah al-Fahl 171, 213 
‘A’ishah 181, 187, 190 
‘Amr b. Kulthum 245 
‘Antarah 8, 29, 85, 87, 88, 95, 98, 
99, 128, 129, 141, 160, 168, 
213, 257, 260 
‘Antarah’s DTwan 89 
'aql 47, 62-65, 67, 144, 230, 233, 
'arsh 18 

Abu Dhu’ayb 98, 252 
Abu Hanifah 162 
Abu Qabus 115 
Abu ‘Ubaydah 118 
Abyssinians 111 
Abyssinia 111 
Ahkam al-Qur’an 266 
ahl 12 , 60, 80, 82, 268 
ahl al-kitdb 
Amin, Ahmad, 66, 73 
ahwd ' 58-60, 72 
ajal 135-139 

a 'jam 202, 203 
ayamf201, 202 
'Ajam 201-203 
'ajz 226, 227 
akhirah 86, 87, 89 
'dlam al-shahdddh 83 
al-Asghar, ‘Amr b. al-Harith 116 
al-Bahilt, ‘Amr b. Ahmar, 224 
al-Ghazzall, Abu Hamid 71 
al-RazI, Fakhr al-Dln 207 
al-Yashkurl, Ba‘ith b. Suraym, 129 
alihah 7, 38 

Allah 4-9, 12, 14, 18, 23-25, 29, 
30, 37, 40, 41, 44-48, 60, 70, 
71, 76, 77, 84, 93, 100-112, 
114-117, 119-125, 131, 136- 
141, 144, 161, 163-165, 176, 
185, 192, 193,211,214,216, 
222, 226, 235, 255, 258, 259, 

Arabian concept of 1 10 
as the Creator 5, 78, 106, 
107, 114, 121, 127-128, 
130, 136, 140, 186 
association between ‘creation’ 
(khalq) and 128 
conception of the nature of 7 
name of 36, 38, 101, 108, 
123, 128, 130 
alms-giving 55 
dmana 15, 16, 22, 24 
amthdl 56 

analytic philosophy 2 
analytic study 3 / 

angel-worship 8 
angelic hierarchy 8 



God and Man in the Qur’an 



angels 8, 9, 29, 120, 127, 216, 233 
anthropology 2 

apostle of God 53, 59, 113, 159, 

' Arab 72, 156, 162, 201 
Arab, Christian(s) 104, 110, 111 
conception of human virtue 5, 
7, 8, 10, 39, 79, 182 
concept of Allah 105 
heathenism 184 
mind 67, 219 
people 202 
tribes 102 
world 73, 117 
Arab-ness 207 

Arabia 5, 21, 36, 51, 70, 79, 82, 
87, 89, 93, 105, . 106, 109, 

111, 112, 122, 125, 126, 204, 
205, 222, 231 

ancient 8, 40, 56, 182, 187, 

Arabian, ethics 222 
nabiy 197 

paganism 87, 95, 106, 114 
poetry 99, 182 
Prophet 200, 206 
religion 218 

Weltanschauung of nomadism 

Arabic 9, 14, 20, 35, 36, 38-40, 
42, 47, 60-62, 64-70, 72, 

112, 125, 144, 155, 164, 
167-169, 171, 172, 176, 179, 
182, 184, 187, 192, 198-208, 
213, 234, 240, 246, 252 
genuine 38, 62, 64 
literature 67, 95, 198, 204 
modem 64, 65 

old 40, 198 
Qur’an 200 
stock 196 

Arabization, of the Hellenistic 

heritage 45 

of present-day Egypt 73 
Arabs 5-8, 36, 38, 47, 56, 62, 
66-68, 72, 80-82, 85, 87-89, 
91-95, 101-109, 112, 114, 

115, 118, 119, 122, 128-131, 
135, 139, 155, 159, 161, 168, 
169, 171-173, 182, 185-188, 
193, 196, 200, 201, 203-208, 
213, 216, 219-221, 223, 229- 
231, 235-238, 248, 249, 255, 

contemporary 104 
cultural history of the 18 
idolatrous 80 
in Muhammad’s time 181 
moral ideas of 40 
non-Muslim 14 
of Makkah 101, 103 
pagan 80, 94, 101-104, 107, 
108, 111, 115, 123, 181, 
185, 188, 221, 229, 236, 

polytheist 51 
Aristotelian, concept 48 
sense 22 

subject-substance 69 
Aristotle 66, 68 
Ash‘ari, al- 54 

A‘sha al-Akbar, al- 105, 111, 112, 
160, 178, 183, 204 
Asma‘1, al- 87 
associative 21, 27, 28 
attributes 44, 45, 141, 166 
Avicenna 71 

ayah 98, 142-146, 148-150, 154, 
173, 255 

dydt 15, 46, 63, 71, 78, 86, 
142-146, 148-151, 153, 154, 
158, 163,211,214, 232, 236, 

of Allah 144 

Ayyub 112 

baghy 233 
balagh 193 

Banu Asad b. ‘Abd al-‘Uzza 112, 
ban 130 

basic meaning 1143, 14, 16, 17, 
19, 21, 37, 53, 55, 62, 66, 69, 
86, 102, 103, 112, 117, 150, 
159, 165, 202, 229, 242, 251. 
basic semantic core 10, 16 
bath 13, 94 
bdtil 6, 38, 146 
Baydawl, al- 178 
bayyindt 232 
Beatific Vision 71 
‘becoming’ 68 
Bedouin, genuine 204, 205 
mentality 206 
poet 104, 115 
tradition 144 
vocabulary 36 
Bedouin-ness 205 
Bedouins 8, 50, 102, 196, 204, 206 
‘being’ 68, 69, 76 
being and existence 7, 45, 66, 86, 
127, 131 

belief 4, 14,15, 22, 23,41,49, 50, 
54, 79, 92, 95, 102, 105, 114, 
118, 123, 139, 146, 149, 183, 
206, 249, 255, 263 
in Allah 41, 102, 123 
Benjamin 244 
Bertrand Russel 71 
Bible 104, 120 

Biblical 93, 102, 104, 111, 112, 
117, 120, 175, 196; 
acceptation 1 17 
concept of ndbhr' 196 
biology 2 

Bishops of Najran 112 
book 1-3, 10-12, 28, 30-32, 35, 61, 
66, 71-76, 81, 94, 98, 144, 
145, 164, 200, 202, 203,207, 
214, 222, 236, 251, 252, 266 
Book of Moses 30 
Book of Revelation 12, 80, 97 
Book on Poetry and Poets 93 
Bukhari, al- 113, 214 
Byzantine empire 111 
Byzantium 110 

Central Arabia 109 
Christ 110, 119 
and Allah 125 
Christian, communities 8 1 

concept of Allah 110, 115 
Court of al-HTrah 87 
Ghassan 116 
God 116 

and Jewish religious ideas 93 
kings 115 

literature in Arabic 87 
powers 111 
slaves 112, 201 

Christianity 87, 93, 105, 110, 112 ; 

113, 115, 118, 164, 248, 254 
Christians 12, 36, 70, 80, 82, 102 
110-112, 115, 117, 122, 204 
of Ghassan 248 
pre-Islamic 38, 104, 111 
civilization, ancient 105 
ancient world of 5 1 
Islamic 105 

classical, age of Islamic culture 4] 
age of Islam 42 
Arabic 65, 234 
period of Islam 43 
communication, animal 166 

from God to man 142, 143 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



in the ascending direction 
158, 208 
unilateral 170 

community 11, 16, 21, 27, 51, 53, 
79, 80, 82, 83, 90, 97, 159, 
179, 196, 199, 201,203,206, 
231, 248, 249 

Companions 59, 72, 156, 177 
concept, of angel of death 29 
of dydt 71, 151 
of Foreordination 139 
of Islam 54, 55,81,217, 222, 
238, 247 
of ummiyyun 80 
of Way 25, 154, 194 
Concepts 3-5, 7, 10-12, 20, 23, 
25-28, 34, 37, 38, 43, 44, 
47-49, 51, 54, 55, 60, 61, 
68-70, 72, 78, 83, 86, 89-91, 
93-96, 98, 101, 109, 112, 

114, 120, 122, 151, 153-157, 
175, 198, 201,205,214,217, 
218,223,236, 237, 239, 240, 
247, 250, 267 

traditional JahilT system of 

conceptual, analysis 2, 71 

associations 4, 13, 60, 255 
battle 146 
coherence 37 

network 4, 5, 13, 23, 61, 155, 

opposition 51, 75-76, 83-83, 
89, 153, 257 
poles 77 
problems 2 

structure 18, 44-45, 68, 89, 
146, 171, 256-257, 260, 
262, 265 

structure of al-dkhirah 89 
system 4, 7, 10, 13, 24, 48, 
51, 55, 62, 91, 103, 130 

system of Jdhiliyyah 38 
system of old Arabia 21 
systems 5, 13, 21, 26, 37, 42, 
43, 60 

connections 7, 21 
contextual analysis 223 
cosmic ‘Mover’ 48 
Creation 47, 48, 120, 127-131, 137 
Creator-creature relation 78 
creatureliness 129, 130 
cultural, concepts 3 
languages 60, 164 

Dahr 132-135, 137, 141 
dalal 25-27, 81, 151-154 
Baud Rahbar 71, 97, 139, 268 
Dawn of Islam 66 
Day of Judgment 9, 14, 84, 91, 
139, 149, 196, 242, 258, 259, 
264, 268 

Day of Reckoning 92, 93 
Death 8, 29, 63, 87, 94, 95, 108, 
119, 130-135, 137-139, 146, 
155, 168, 202, 209, 241, 257 
inevitability of death 131, 138 
democracy 64 
demons 8, 177 
derived knowledge 56 
determinism 135 
dhat 44 
diachronic 32 
diachrony 33 

dichotomy, principle of 89 
differentiation, principle of 23 
dimuqratiyyah 64 
din 13, 119, 120, 125, 207, 214, 

din al-hamfiyyah 120, 248 

din al-hunafa\ 119 

disbelief 23, 25, 54, 81, 149, 257 

disobedience 23 

divina commcdia 86, 127, 222 

divine, act 78, 146, 148, 149, 151, 

attributes 44, 45 
chastisement 10, 79, 259, 
261, 263 

communication 143 
Decree 140 
Foreordination 139 
Goodness 15, 46, 148, 255, 

Guidance 50, 58, 120, 150, 
152, 236 
Haqq 57 
hierarchy 6 
hilm 228 
initiative 254 
intention 151 
intervention 143 
messenger 191, 192 
predestination 30 
Presence 46, 120 
Providence 9, 143 
response 2 1 1 

Revelation 1 1, 14, 42, 57, 59, 
120, 193, 194, 196, 201, 

Will 50, 145, 152, 196, 217 
Words 12, 189, 191-194, 261, 

wrath 63 
divinities 6 

Dlwdn al-Hamdsah 71, 98, 99 
Dlwan of Hudhayl tribe 134, 140 
Dtwan al-Mufaddaliyyat 99, 261 
DTwdn of Zuhayr b. AbT Sulma 

du‘d 158, 212 
Du'd', al- 208 

dunyd 86-88,90,91, 120, 138, 139 
structure of the 96 
Durkhcim 199 
dynasty ol ( ihnssSn 1 1 1 

Edward Sapir 28 
Egypt 73, 224, 244 
electronic engineering 2 
Emperor Tiberius II 110 
English language 18 
eschatological, associations 14 
coloring 13, 259 
field 13 
ideas 123 
essence 44, 64 
essential Divine attributes 45 
eternal life 131, 136, 138 
ethical 10, 30, 72, 78, 79, 97, 140, 
215, 222, 236, 239, 254, 256 
Ethiopean Timtim 203 
Ethiopians 187 

etymology 2, 17, 33, 117, 159, 
161, 165, 240 
Evangel 113 

Fadak 112, 244 
fait social 199 

faith 15, 18, 24, 37, 55, 71, 106, 
108, 114, 116, 158, 209, 248, 
249, 264 

Fajr al-Islam 66, 73 
false 6, 23, 145, 148, 149, 177, 
211, 259 

falsehood 145, 150, 167 
Farra’, al- 269 
‘Fate’ 133 
ft sabil Allah 41 
Find al-Zimmanl, al- 141 
Fire of Hell 90, 268 
fitrah 118 

Five Pillars of Islam 55 
focus-word 22-25, 27, 37, 44, 55, 
76, 134, 145, 150 / 
fundamental, structure Of things 76, 

world-view 92 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



Gabriel 9, 120, 192, 193, 200 
genesis 68 
Germans 68, 194 
Gestalt 4, 1 1 
ghafur 44 
Ghassanids 112 
Ghassaniyyat 116 
ghawayah 26, 154 
ghayb 83-85, 98, 185, 196, 207 
Gibb, Hamilton A. R. 122, 126 
God 1,4-9, 18, 23-25, 30, 40, 44, 
50, 53-55, 57-60, 63, 71, 72, 
74, 76-84, 86, 87, 91, 93, 96, 
97, 100-107, 111-122, 124, 
126-130, 137-140, 142-146, 
148, 150-155, 157-160, 162- 
165, 167, 168, 174-177, 179, 
180, 185, 186, 189, 190, 192- 
196, 200, 203, 206-212,216- 
219, 221, 226, 229, 233, 
235-240, 244-247, 249, 251, 
252, 255, 257-259, 263-266 
Arabian 116 
Biblical 102, 111-112 
belief in 14-15 
concept of God 37, 38, 46, 
78, 100, 101, 104-106, 
111, 114, 117, 142, 254 
His act of sending down 
the ay at 151 
His goodness 14 
His way 41 

His will 151, 152, 232 
His idlal 152 
nature of 44 
new name of 101 
of justice 153 
of the Qur’an 46, 48, 254 
will of 137, 139, 142, 174 
god-fearing 78, 121 
gods 5-8, 121, 211, 236 
Goldzieher 222 

grammar 30 

gratitude 49, 149, 256, 257 
towards God 15 
Great Lord 114, 221, 237 
Greek 64-69, 100, 102, 111, 112, 
114, 171, 208 
concept 65-66 
concept of nous 64 
concepts 61 
ideas 47 
influence 43 
mind 67 
model 61 
nous 65 

philosophy 61, 66 
philosophical mind 68 
philosophical terms 62 
thinkers 66 
to on 69 

way of thinking 44 
words 62 

Hddf 156, 157 

hadith 8, 50, 52, 59, 71, 79, 113, 
118, 125, 180, 187, 190, 191, 
202, 213, 232 
hajj 55, 200, 233, 249 
Half 72, 80, 97, 112, 138, 146, 
155, 214, 247, 249, 257 
halfm 222, 224-228, 230, 231, 235, 
237, 239, 252 
hamfyat al-jdhiliyyah 229 
Hanfjitic , problematic — system 

religion 81, 120 
tradition 122 
hanffiyyah 122 

Hanlfs 70, 106, 117, 118, 122, 
139, 259 
Hannad 112 

Haqq 6, 38, 57, 145, 186 
HarQn, ‘Abd al-Salam 

hashr 95 

Hassan Ibn Thabit 184, 197, 234 
hatif 65, 72 
hawd 58, 60, 72, 120 
hawadith 133 
haydt al-dunya, al- 86 
heart 50, 54, 85, 148, 158, 178, 
189, 192, 200, 210, 217, 225 
Heavenly Record 92 
Heavenly Throne 18 
Hebrew 113, 119, 125, 187, 206, 
215, 240 

prophetic books 195 
prophets 196 
scripture 114 

Hell 9, 50, 51, 89, 90, 120, 122, 
151, 186, 196, 268, 269 
Hellenistic, philosophy 64 

virtue of ‘non-pertubation’ 

Hereafter 54, 58, 86, 87, 89-92, 96, 
98, 125, 131, 138, 139, 161, 
258, 263, 264, 266 
Hija’ poetry 215 
hi jab 46 

hilm 45, 46, 55-60, 71, 222-228, 
230, 231, 233-239 
HTrah, al- 87, 104, 109, 110, 112, 

hisdb 13, 92 

history, of Arabic 20, 204 
of Islam 15, 69, 79, 208 
ho theos 102, 103, 112 
Holy Scripture 119 
Holy Spirit 191 
Homs 205 

Hour 14, 29, 30, 84, 136, 210 
hudd 26, 50, 120, 151, 152, 156, 

lludhayl tribe 85, 134, 140, 241, 

hujjah 119 

human beings 6, 9, 76, 143, 164, 
174, 175, 186, 224, 236, 255 

affairs 100, 136, 143 
analytic thought 166 
destiny 58, 130, 131, 134, 

ethics 256 

existences, 78, 87, 130, 131, 
133, 136, 138, 139 
free will 30 
freedom 153 
goodness 254 
intellect 43, 231 
linguistic behaviour 166 
mind 63, 84, 120, 127, 145, 
163, 174 
perception 85 
power 219, 221, 236 
reality 239 
soul 58, 177, 181 
speech act 167 
speech behaviour 165, 167 
humility 216-219, 226, 238, 245 
Hurqah 87 

Husayn b. al-Human, al- 202 

7 bddah 210, 217, 263 

Ibn al-‘Arabi 266 

Ibn Khaldun 181, 190, 195 

Ibn Qutaybah 119, 121, 269 

Ibn Rushd 69 

Ibn Slna 71 

Ibn Taymiyyah 48 

Ibrahim 119 

Ishmael 119 

idol-worshippers 117, 128 
idols 102, 121, 128, 210, 212, 263 
ignorant philosopher^ 48 
ihtidd 26 

i‘jdz al-Qur’dn 195 
ilhdm 174, 190 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



‘ilm 45, 46, 55-60, 71, 222, 234 
as human phenomenon 57 
Imdm al-Haramayn 72 
man 4, 14, 15, 18, 22, 24, 25, 30, 
49, 50, 54, 55, 60, 71, 72, 
146, 149, 150, 255, 257, 258 
man-field 14 
immutable laws 67 
Imr’ al-Qays 141, 182, 213 
indhar 148 
Indian 208 

individual, concepts 4, 10, 69 
substance 69 
infidel 4, 18, 44, 49 
ingratitude 14, 256 
insan 76, 77 

inspiration 8, 177, 182-187, 189, 
192, 194, 197-199 
intellect 43, 47, 64, 67, 107, 123, 
144, 231, 234 
intercession 6 
invisible spiritual being 8 
slrat 25, 26, 154 
‘iqdb 258, 259, 263 
Islam 2, 4-6, 8, 10, 18, 21, 23, 24, 
29, 30, 33, 35, 40, 42, 43, 46, 
48-51, 53-55, 60, 61, 66, 70, 
73, 77, 79-81, 83, 91, 101, 
103-105, 114, 119, 122-124, 
139, 155, 158, 159, 161, 164, 
172, 178, 179, 182, 184, 193, 
195, 199, 203, 204, 206, 207, 
213, 216-220, 222-224, 228, 
235, 236, 238, 239, 247, 251, 
253-256, 264, 268; 
advent of 67, 80, 93 
as a religion 15, 51 
institutions of 159 
nascent community of 5 1 
structuralization of 53 
theologians of 71 

Islamic 4-8, 12, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 

28-32, 35-40, 43, 45, 47-49, 
53-64, 66-72, 81-83, 85-90, 
92, 94-97, 100-107, 109, 111, 
117, 118, 120, 122, 126, 
128-131, 133, 135-139, 141, 
146, 149, 157, 159, 160, 166, 
169, 171-173, 176, 182-184, 
196-198, 202, 203, 216, 
219-223, 225, 229, 234-238, 
241, 243, 245, 248, 249, 251, 
252, 254, 256, 258-260 
community 51, 53, 82, 83 
concept of Allah 29, 123 
concept of God 100, 104 
conception of the supreme 
God 7 

conceptual system 12, 103 
culture 30, 42, 97, 164, 207- 
era 107 

history 97, 207 
monotheism 10, 51 
monotheist 5 1 
piety 258 

Revelation 4, 47, 103 
sphere of concepts 5 1 
system 10, 53, 71, 103, 136- 

system of concepts 10 
theologians 6 

theology 14, 30-31, 42-43, 
48, 51, 54, 59, 70, 139 
Tradition 118 
ummah 79, 81-82 
Islamists 2 
islamization 5 1 
IsmaTl 119 
Israelites 206 
istijabah 211 
'isyan 23 

ittiba' al-ahwa' 58 
Iy3s b. al-Aratt 98, 141 

jahannam 89-91, 151 
jdhil 145, 161, 219, 221-225, 
228-233, 237, 239 
jdhil - ness 221, 223 
Jdhili 36-38, 56, 66, 77, 79, 87, 
104,108,118-120,122, 140, 
141, 181, 182, 186, 223,224, 
241, 248, 261 

Arabs 91, 104, 108, 112, 129- 
131, 155, 161, 216, 220- 

conception of Allah 70 
human values 220 
ideal 41 

literature 85, 118, 241 
mind 29, 112, 130-131 
system 37-38, 103, 109, 131, 

view of life 87, 138 
Weltanschauung 94, 103, 130 
Jahiliyyah 6, 8, 10, 30, 36, 38, 39, 
56, 57, 60, 64, 77-79, 85, 92, 
95, 96, 101, 103-106, 108, 
111, 112, 115, 116, 118, 122, 
128, 130, 137, 138, 155, 156, 
160, 186, 199, 202, 204, 212, 
216, 220-223, 229, 230, 235, 
238, 248, 251,256, 259, 260, 
262, 267 

late 21, 89, 93, 106 
pessimism of 134 
spirit of 220 
jahl 222-225, 228-239 
y'a/i/-mentality 236 
jannah 89-91, 151, 213 
Jerusalem 205 
Jesus Christ 1 19 
Jewish, and C'hristian ideas 106 
centers 93 
imagery 120 
piosclyles 1 12 
tribes 1 1 2 

Jews 12, 30, 38, 70, 80, 82, 102 
104, 111, 112, 115, 122, 165. 
194, 204, 249, 250 
Jibril 9, 120, 192 
jinn 8, 9, 77, 85, 127, 177. 

182-189, 192, 214 
Jinn Mishal 183 
John 183 
Joseph 224, 244 
Jubba‘1, al- 268 

Judaism 8, 70, 87, 112, 115, 118.. 
164, 254, 259 

Judeo-Christian 36, 70, 93, 94, 
112, 114, 115 
religious imagery 90 
Judgment Day 95, 259 
Jumayh al-Asadl, al- 99 
jurisprudence 30, 42, 61, 83 
JuwaynT, al- 72 

Ka'bah 5, 106, 109-111 
kafara 14-16, 30 

kafir 4, 15, 18, 44, 49, 51-53, 239, 
257, 264 

kdhin 182, 186-189, 197 
kdhin Satlh 187 
kalim Allah 176 
karam 40 
karlm 39-41 
Karramites 54, 72 
karramiyah 54, 72 
kawn 68 

key-term 11, 17, 24, 26, 39, 41 
57, 59, 61, 63, 228, 240 
key-terms 3, 4, 11, 18, 19, 21, 24 
32, 33, 39, 42-44, 47-49, 64 
83, 91, 146, 216, 218, 235 
240, 250, 251, 268 
Khadljah 113 
Khalaf b. KhalTfah 227 
khdliq 130 
khalq 48, 128, 130 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



KharijI 5 1 
Kharijite 71 
Kharijites 51 
Kharijiyyah 51 
Khaybar 93, 112 
khulud 138 

problem of 131 
khushu' 217, 218 
king ‘Amr 111, 116, 244 
king al-Harith 133 
king Jabalah II 112 
king al-Nu‘man III 109 
kingdom 120, 121, 205, 267 
KirmanT, al- 180, 209, 214 
Kisra Anushirwan 110, 213 
kitdb 11, 12, 72, 73, 80-82, 92, 
139-141, 206 

knowledge 2, 5, 17, 29, 46, 52, 
54-60, 72, 84, 85, 98, 111, 
112, 114, 138, 143, 156, 182, 
184, 185, 190, 234, 235 
by acquaintance 55, 71 
by inference 55-56, 71 
pseudo- 57 

Koran 30, 72, 97, 140, 194 
kuffar 9, 80 

kufr 15, 18, 23-26, 29, 30, 49, 51, 
54, 60, 78, 146, 149, 150, 
223, 255, 257, 258 
semantic field of 25-26 

la ‘ib 98 

Labid 105, 111, 139, 141, 144, 
161, 172, 204, 259 
lahw 98 

Lamiyyah al-'Arab 72, 156 
language, community 179 
of Revelation 42 
of the Qur’an 3, 35, 41, 203, 

Last Day 14, 41, 91, 92 
Last Judgment 13, 120 

Latin 61, 62, 69, 161 
Lebanon 73 

linguistic, communication 168, 
176, 179, 180 
event 189, 209 
phenomenon 167, 198 
signs 142, 208 
linguistics 2, 33, 179 
modem 179 

lisdn 54, 162, 164, 179, 201 
Lord, of Creation 48 

of Ka‘bah 106, 110, 111 
of Makkan sanctuary 109 
of vengeance 258 
-servant relation 78, 79, 126, 
130, 216, 240 
Lord Russel 55 
Lyall, Charles 99, 125, 140 

Ma’ al-Sama’, ‘Amr b. Hind b. al- 
Mundhir 244 
Ma‘bad b. ‘Alqamah 230 
Ma‘qil.b. Khuwaylid 98 
ma ' rifah 46, 47 
Madmah 70, 82, 83, 192 

Prophet’s migration to 35, 

Madman 35, 82, 117 
Surahs 117 

MafatTh al-Ghayb 207 
maghfirah 255 
magical phenomenon 198 
Makkah 36, 55, 101, 103, 109, 
110, 112, 114, 119, 159, 185, 
193, 236, 249, 268 
mercantile society of 5 
Makkan 35, 103, 109, 123, 191, 

pilgrimage to 55, 249 
polytheists 5 
Shrine 110, 161 

Makkans 91, 92. 112, 122, 159. 

228, 231, 234 
maldk 8, 10 

mankind 9, 25, 63, 79-82, 97, 100, 
114, 115, 118, 122, 136, 137, 

142, 145, 148, 151, 193, 196, 
203, 208 

Mary 183 
mahshar 95 

Marrar b. Munquidh, al- 172 
mathematics 2 
mawjud 69 
mawt 134 

meaning 5, 10-19, 21, 29, 30, 
35-37, 39,41,46, 49,51,53, 
55, 57-60, 62-66, 68-70, 
79-81, 85, 86, 88, 102-104, 
106, 110, 112, 117, 125, 126, 
129, 130, 132, 133, 139, 140, 

143, 144, 146, 148-150, 154, 
157, 159, 161, 165-167, 169, 
173, 175, 176, 182, 183, 194, 
196, 202,211,214,215,217, 
218, 221,223, 224, 226, 227, 

229, 232-235, 239-242, 245, 
246, 248, 251, 252, 255, 
259-261, 264, 268 
phenomenon of 2 

study of 2 
structure of the 22 
theories of 3 
metaphorical system 157 
metaphysical thinking 3, 68 
Michael 120 
Middle Ages 6 
Middle East 252 
Mighty Being 191 
middle ummah 81, 97 
MTkal 120 
millah 249-251 
modern, civilization 73 
Turkish 34 

MonophysitcM 111, 112 

monotheism, temporary 23, 255, 

monotheistic, ideas 70, 93, 196 
Judeo-Christian circles 36 
religion 1 1 8 
monotheists 51, 117 
moral 5, 10, 37, 40, 90, 122, 153, 
197, 219, 229, 256, 262 
ideas 37, 40 
Mosaic law 165 

Moses 30, 46, 113, 161, 174-176, 
190, 194, 200 
Mount Sinai 175 

mu’min 22, 50, 51, 54, 71, 222, 

Mu‘allaqah 92, 99, 168, 172, 213, 
234, 245, 252, 260, 261, 269 
Mu‘tazilah school of theology 268 
mubashshir 148 

Muhammad, prophet 7, 15, 18, 30, 
53, 59, 82, 102, 103, 114, 
118, 119, 124, 125, 137, 159, 
165, 167, 179-181, 185, 187, 
188, 190-193, 195, 197, 201, 
205, 206, 231,236, 251,253, 
264, 266 

his prophetic consciousness 

Muhammad b. Karra 72 

Mukhabbal, al- 225 

mukhadram 20, 21, 95, 98, 141 

multi-strata structure 21, 22 

multiple relationship 23, 27 

munafiqun 80 

munajat 176 

mundsabah 180 

mundhir 87, 115, 148, 244 

Muqaddimah 181, 214 

murji’ah 54 

Murji’ites 54 

MOsS b. Imran 1 13 

Muslim, community 53, 79, 80, 82, 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



90, 159 

ordinary orthodox 46 
philologists 93 

thinkers 54, 65, 75, 83, 153, 

Muslims 6, 14, 43, 50, 51, 53, 59, 
71, 80-82, 84, 101, 103, 118, 
119, 129, 177, 197, 203, 207, 
218, 228, 268 
Musnad of Ibn Hanbai 1 7 1 
mutual communication 78 
mysticism 18, 30, 42, 43, 45, 47, 

mystics 45-47 
ndbhf’ 196, 215 

Nabighah, al- 105, 111, 112, 115- 
117, 125, 135, 141, 159, 204, 
205, 248, 249, 253 
nably 4, 12, 18, 47, 119, 195-197 
najXy 175, 176 
namus 113, 114 
nashr 94, 95 
nationalism 64 
natural, inclination 58 

monotheistic tendency 140 
phenomena 15, 46, 143 
predisposition 118 
Necessary Being 68 
neo-Platonic concept of Emanation 

Nestorian church 1 12 
network, of semantic associations 

of words 43, 83 
neurology 2 

new conception of society 82 
nidd 38 
nihilism 92 

pessimistic 131 

Ninety-Nine Most Beautiful Names 

Noah, Prophet 215 
nobility 39-41 
of lineage 39 

Noldeke, Theodor 35, 125, 253 
nomos 114 

non- Arab peoples 201 
non-Arabic languages 203 
non-human language 164 
non-Qur’anic, literature 106, 264 
systems of concepts 28 
non-verbal, dydt 143, 145 
communication 168 
symbols 145 

Nu‘man b. al-Mundhir, al- 87, 115 

obedience 78, 217, 218, 243-246, 

objective entity 193, 194, 198 
Old Testament 195, 255 
omniscient 84 
ontological, conception 17 
difference 168 
equality 209 
order 9, 38 

ontology 3, 28, 66, 68 
dynamic 4, 17 
Orientalists 93, 111, 222 
original conceptual meaning 14 
orthodoxy 47 
Other World 87, 88 

Paradise 120, 122, 196 
partner 38 

people of the Scripture 12, 80-82, 
193, 203 

Persian, culture in Islam 207 
Empire 160 
Emperor 161 
language 207 
religious conception 8 
Shu ‘ubiyyah 207 
vassal-state 1 12 

words and concepts 205 
Persians 88, 204, 207 
personal, communion 46 
experience 57 

philosophy 2, 29, 30, 42, 43, 45, 
47, 48, 60, 61, 63, 64, 66-69, 
71, 97, 100, 131, 140, 157, 

physiology 2 
Plotinian ‘One’ 48 
poetic inspiration 184 
political theory 42 
polytheists 5, 6, 51, 165 
positivism 64-65 
post-Qur’anic, ages 32, 75 
periods 42 
systems 42, 43, 47 
practical intelligence 62 
prayer 55, 158, 159, 208,211,212, 

‘pre-linguistic’ concepts 27 
pre-Islamic 5, 8, 20, 21, 29, 32, 
36-40, 49, 55-58, 66, 70, 72, 
85-90, 92, 94-96, 101-107, 
111, 117, 118, 122, 126, 
128-131, 135, 141, 159, 169, 
173, 182-184, 196-198,202, 
216, 220,225,229,234-238, 
248, 249, 252, 256, 260 
Arab mind 219 
heathenism 86 
history 39, 251 
poet(s) 56, 85, 183 
poetry 5, 21, 55, 57, 87, 89, 
92, 109, 160, 166, 169, 
172, 176, 182, 196, 202, 
220, 223, 234-235, 241, 
243, 245 

times 4, 6, 14, 36, 39-40, 62, 
8 1 * 102, 104. 130, 157, 
171, 197, 216, 222, 223, 
235, 254, 259 

view of human life 133 
vocabulary 14 

pre-Qur’anic 32, 36, 37, 39, 160, 

history 100 

primitive shamanism 182 
prophecy 187, 196, 215 
prophet 4, 6, 9, 12, 18, 30, 47, 49, 
52, 59, 60, 72, 79, 80, 82, 84, 
101, 103, 113, 118, 119, 137, 
145, 148, 152, 158, 159, 165, 
185-187, 190-192, 194, 196- 
198, 200, 201,205, 206, 208, 
215, 218, 229-232, 234, 236, 
253, 264, 266 
prophethood 113 
prophetic, career 103, 191 
activity 196 

Prophets 81, 97, 174, 177, 190, 
195, 196, 216 

psychology 2, 17, 46, 62, 76, 110, 

of fear and taqwa 264 
Punishment 50, 93, 148, 202, 227, 
228, 259, 263, 265, 266 

qada’ wa qadar 139, 151 
Qadisiyyah 88 
qalam 172, 173, 213 
qalb 148, 149 
qawl 54, 161, 167 
qawmiyyah 64 
qiblah , al - 160 
qirids 18 
qiydmah 13, 195 
qudrah 226, 227, 237 
qunut 217 

Qur’an 1-6, 8, 10-12, 14-16, 18, 
20-26, 28-33, 35-39, 41-52. 
55, 57-60, 63, 64, 70, 71, 
74-77, 79-84, 86, 89, 91-94, 
98, 100-104, 106-109, 114, 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



117, 119, 122-124, 126-130, 
132, 136-139, 142-146, 148, 
150, 152-155, 157, 163-167, 
173, 174, 176, 177, 179, 180, 
185, 188, 189, 191, 193-201, 
203, 205-209, 211-218, 220- 
224, 226, 228, 232-240, 242, 
245-249, 252, 254-258, 261, 
262, 264-266, 268 
and theology 60 
authority of the 35, 42 
inimitability of the 195 
pointing out Muhammad ‘not 
a poet’ 18 

religious world-view of the 
Qur’an 229 

religious conception of 25 
spirit of the 206 

conception 47-48, 127, 139, 143- 
144, 154, 164, 177, 189, 196, 
229, 236, 239 

concepts 28, 37, 45, 92, 98, 101, 
127, 160, 178, 180, 189, 196, 

concept of Divine Creation 

concept of ‘Prophet’ 196 
concept of resurrection 92 
concept of Revelation 178, 
180, 189, 199 

concepts of social system 98 
context 4, 11, 12, 14, 25, 30, 
39, 55, 145, 154, 164, 266 
description of God 72 
divina commedia 127 
eschatology 29 
exegesis 52 

image of the Hereafter 90 
message 91 
ontology 28 
outlook 205 

period 30, 61 
piety 39 

presentation 122 

stage 14, 18, 50, 54, 83, 151 

studies 1 

system 28, 37-38, 49, 100, 
130, 145, 235, 256 
taqwa 259 
teaching 207 

thought 25, 28, 43, 74, 76, 
80, 82,100-101,144,153, 

usage 47, 101, 198 
vision of the universe 3-5, 18 
vocabulary 2, 13, 18, 20, 21, 
24, 25, 33, 35, 36, 42, 43, 
51, 74, 240 
words 12, 45, 48 
world 1, 3, 4, 13, 18, 37, 38, 
75, 76, 82, 97, 136, 146, 
157, 239 

world-view 3-4, 13, 18, 37, 
82, 97, 136, 146, 239 
Quraysh 109, 119, 125, 231 
qurban 6 

ra y 60 
Rabab 225 

rabb 78, 109, 114, 121, 128, 216, 
rahxm 44 

rajaz 187, 197, 198 
rashad 26, 154 
rasul 18, 80, 81, 193, 214 
ratiocinative philosophy 68 
real entities 7 

real 2, 6, 16, 18, 22, 27, 29, 35, 
37, 40, 48, 49, 54, 55, 59, 60, 
80, 85, 100, 115, 117, 118, 
129, 136, 138, 143, 157, 167, 
179, 180, 182, 184-188, 191, 
197, 198, 202, 204,212,218, 

220, 228, 238 

reality 4, 6, 7, 15, 16, 27, 34, 47, 
48, 56-58, 64, 76, 79, 80, 
118, 135, 146, 150, 152, 170, 
186, 193, 201, 229, 239, 240 
reciprocal relationship 77 
relation between God and man 
76-78, 96, 100, 126, 130, 
151,163,208,216, 240, 254, 
257, 265 

relational 16, 17, 36, 47, 53, 59, 
62, 103, 106, 110, 150 
meaning 12, 13, 16, 17, 29, 
46, 55, 102-104 

religion 15, 37, 38, 49, 51, 81, 87, 
107, 108, 114, 118-120, 122, 
124, 125, 146, 164, 206, 209, 
211,218, 222, 223, 232, 236, 
239, 240, 246-254, 256 
religious, community 79, 203, 249 
concepts of Judeo-Christian 
origin 92-93 
ideas 7, 93, 106, 122 
meaning 10, 63 
nature 105, 139, 256, 262 
thought 235, 254 
values 5, 6, 10, 155 
religiousness 140 
Resurrection 13, 91-95, 214, 261 
Revelation 4, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 35, 
42, 47, 57-59, 78, 80,81,97, 
101, 103, 109, 113, 120, 142, 
143, 145, 158, 163-169, 172, 
.178-181, 187, 189, 190, 

192-201, 203, 206-208, 211, 
213, 228, 232 
fact of 1 80 
Reward 90 
rhetoric 30, 242 
Roman world 61 
root mofyiing of din 241, 242 
nlh (tl arnht, id- 192 

sa'ah 14, 29, 30, 84, 138 
Sa‘d b. Abl Waqqas 88 
Sabians 80 

sabfl 25, 41, 154, 157 
Sacred Book 30, 35, 61, 75, 207 
saj t 187, 188, 197-199 
saj '-style 198 

Salamah b. al-Khurshub 257 
salat 55, 78, 158-160 
Sallk, al- 135 
Salim b. Wabisah 226 
Salmah al-Ju‘fi 95 
Sassanian culture 110 
Saussurian terminology 164, 179 
sawm 55 

Scripture 3, 12, 28, 39, 80-82, 1 14, 
119, 158, 193, 203, 206 
of Islam 2 
sein 68 

self-sufficiency 78, 221, 236, 238, 

semantic, development 14, 33, 217 
element 11, 102, 230, 240, 

elements 12, 38, 103, 223 
field 10, 12, 14, 15, 20, 22, 
24-28, 36-38, 49, 55, 70, 
75,91,96, 130, 134, 146, 
149, 150, 153, 155-157, 
161, 242, 257 
field of social system 83 
field of ‘society’ 79 
problem 103 
methodology 1 
relationship 264 
structure 21, 39, 43, 46, 55, 
59, 100, 145, 148, 153, 
169, 170, 172, 197, 218, 

structure of the word kdfir 53 
‘surfaces’ 36 

transformation 10, 14, 15,47 


God and Man in the Qur’an 



69, 198, 258 
value 21 

semantical 2, 25, 35, 38, 51, 75, 
83, 96, 98, 101, 170, 178, 
179, 196 

analysis 16-17, 54, 74, 83, 
145, 169, 252 

semanticist3, 5, 18, 28, 47, 48, 61, 

semantics 11, 13, 28-30, 60, 69, 
97, 145 

historical 32, 33, 35, 48 
modem 7, 54, 71 
of Islamic theology 48 
of the Qur’an 1-3, 21, 30, 
of vocabulary of Islamic Law 

science of 3 
static 33 

semi-personal Being 136 
Semites 181 
Semitic 164 

antiquity 196 
mode of thinking 246 
world 254 

servant 9, 78, 79, 126, 130, 216, 
217, 221,237, 238, 240, 246, 
247, 251, 253 

shd'ir 18, 182, 184-186, 189 
shabdb 87 

Shaddakh b. Ya‘mar 94 
shafd'ah 6 
ShafiT, al- 60, 161 
shag* 187 

shahadah 83-86, 98, 158 

shakara 14-16 

Shanfara, al- 62 

shank 38 

shayatln , al- 192 

Shay bah 119 

Shaytdn 177, 185 

shvkr 23, 24, 78, 149, 255-258 

shuraka' 104 
shuyu ‘iyyah 64 
sifdt 44, 70 

signs 46, 53, 63, 142, 143, 146, 
158, 168, 170, 173, 179, 185, 
199, 208, 232, 255 
sihr 97, 122, 126, 212 
Smith, Wilfred Cantwell 217,252 
so-called gods 7, 8 
social, entities 27 
unity 79 

sociology 2, 199 
spiritual, group movement 122 
religion 87, 122, 257 
static, surface of words 34 
system of words 34 
structural genius 28 
sub-system 20, 22 
of concepts 23 
Sufis 119 
sujud 159 
sultan 244 

supernatural, beings 7, 8, 38, 182 
force 182 
order 130, 167 
Supreme Judge 29 
symbolic, logic 2 

meaning 45, 157, 173 
symbols 144, 145, 148, 232 
synchronic 32 
Syria 73 
Syriac 119, 121 
Syrian, East 112 

system 4-8, 10-17, 19-28, 34-39, 
41-45, 47-49, 51, 53, 55, 
59-62, 64, 69-71, 75, 76, 82, 
83,90,91, 96,98, 100, 104, 
109, 130, 131, 136-138, 144- 
146, 149-153, 157, 168, 179, 
198, 199, 235, 248, 249, 251, 

of concepts 10-11, 20, 23, 43, 

61, 95, 103 
of relations 4 
sign- 168 

systematic ontology 3 

Taabbata Sharran 132, 220 

ta'ah 217, 240, 243, 244 

talim 180 

Tabari, al- 201, 269 

tabligh 193 

tabshlr 148 

Tafslr al-Jalalayn 263 

tahannuth 159 

tahrif 194 

TS’if 118, 122 

takdhib 23, 24, 145, 146, 148-151, 

tanzil 12, 78, 146, 165, 166, 214 
taqwd 10, 39-41, 78, 126, 149, 
259, 264, 265 
Tarafah 56, 141, 182, 268 
tasdiq 23, 24, 72, 145, 146, 
148-151, 153, 211 
Tawrat 114 
Taymd ' 93, 112 
tazakkf 70 

telejun (telephone) 64 
thankfulness 55 

theocentric 7, 8, 24, 76, 100, 120 
theological, mystery 166 
terminology 43 
vocabulary 43, 45 
theology 14, 30, 31, 42-45, 47, 48, 
51, 54, 55, 59-61, 70, 139, 
151, 268 

Throne 30, 120, 126, 208 
TibrTzT, al- 141, 260 
Tirmidhl, al- 52, 71 
to vinai 6K 
T6r& 1 14 

Torah 114, 195, 206 
tribal society 204, 206 

Thaqlf, tribe of 118 
Tamlm, tribe of 110 
truth 16, 24, 80, 81, 93, 104, 107. 
118, 120, 123; 144, 145, 150. 
157, 159, 164, 167, 186, 188, 
191, 192, 232, 233, 243, 251 
tughyan 129, 221, 233 

Uhud 119 

Ullman, Stephen 29 
‘Umar b. AbT RabTah 87 
Umayyah b. AbT al-Salt 106, 118, 
121, 122, 259 

ummah 79-82, 97, 134, 231, 251 
ummah muslimah 19 
umml 8 1 

ummiyyun 80, 81 
ungratefulness 255-256 
unification, principle 23 
Universal Intellect 64 
universe 7, 144, 192, 193, 200, 221 
vision of the 3-5, 18, 120 
unseen 77, 83, 84, 187, 196, 198, 

spirits 182 
unthankfulness 78 
UsEmah b. al-Harith 140 
‘Utbah 119 

values 5-7, 10, 11, 90, 155, 198 
204, 220 

veil 46, 48, 120, 189, 190, 232 
verbal communication 1 68, 1 80 
181, 189-191, 208 
vocabulary, AbbSsid 36 

of Islamic jurisprudence 42 
of Islamic mysticism 42 
of Islamic theology 42-43 
of pre-Islam 21 
of the Qur’an 4, 22, 23, 36 

prc-Qur’unie 36 


God and Man in the Qur’an 

post-Qur’anic 36 

wa'id 148, 265-269 
wad'iyyah 64, 65 
Wadi al-Qura 112 
wahid 44 

wahy 1, 4, 9, 12, 14, 17-19, 22, 23, 
25-27, 29, 32-34, 36, 39-45, 
47, 48, 50, 53, 54, 62-65, 
68-70, 72, 74, 78, 79, 83-86, 
90, 92, 93, 96, 97, 102-106, 
110, 115-118, 120, 123, 129, 
134, 140-143, 148-152, 154- 
158, 161, 163-166, 168-175, 
177-179, 181, 184, 188-190, 
194, 195, 197, 198, 202, 203, 
207-209, 212, 213, 219, 220, 
227, 230, 232-235, 237, 239, 
240, 245, 248, 254-256, 258, 
262, 265 

Wa'Tdiyyahsal- 268 
w&jib al-wujud 68 
Waraqahb. Nawfal 113, 114, 125 
waswasah 177, 178 
Watt, Montgomery 71 
Way 154, 156, 157 
nature of the 25 

Weltanschauung 3, 16, 32, 36, 61, 
70, 72, 74-76, 89, 94, 96, 
100, 103, 106, 121, 129, 

130, 138, 149, 150, 157 
of the Arabs 8 
of Umayyah 122 
philosophical 27, 127, 144 

semantic — of the Qur’an 28 
Wensinck, A.J., 53, 72 
werden 68 

West 65, 71, 72, 93, 253 
Western, writers 222 
scholars 102, 196 
wisdom 81, 97, 143, 227, 230, 231 
word, -magic 182, 197 
-meanings 5, 15, 16 
world, of reality 16 
-outlook 36 

world-view 1, 3, 4, 13, 18, 21, 27, 
31,37,61,64, 82, 83,90, 92, 
97, 122, 136, 146, 229, 239, 

of Jahiliyyah 77 

Worship 6-9, 78, 108, 109, 118, 
119, 121, 124, 158-161,210, 
211, 246, 251, 263 
wujud 68, 69 

Yaqut’s 253 
Yathrib 93, 1 12 
yawm 13, 92, 240, 242 
Yemen 119, 157, 187 

Zakariyya 173, 174 
zakat 55 
zann 56-58, 72 
Zoroastrians 80 

Zuhayr b. Abl Sulma 92-94, 243, 
252, 259, 261, 269 
zulm 137, 228, 229, 236